Cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption cause a majority of oral cancer cases, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Users of smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, dip or chewing tobacco are up to 50 times more likely to develop gum cancer than non-users, notes WebMD. People with a family history of cancer are at increased risk for oral cancer, and certain strains of human papilloma virus, or HPV, increase the risk of developing oral cancer.
Symptoms of gum cancer may include unexplained bleeding in the mouth, persistent sores that last longer than two weeks, weight loss and the development of red or white patches in the mouth, explains WebMD. Additionally, gum cancer may cause lumps, rough spots or crusts on the gums.
To diagnose oral cancer, dentists check for sores, discolorations and irregular lumps in the neck, face and oral cavity, states WebMD. Dentists perform oral brush biopsies and scalpel biopsies to detect abnormal cells. Treatment for oral cancer includes surgery to remove the cancer, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
To prevent oral cancer, people should avoid tobacco products, drink alcohol in moderation and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, advises WebMD. Conducting monthly self-exams and visiting a dentist on a regular basis can detect gum cancer early and increase the likelihood of successful treatment.