Mouth cancer or oral cancer is a disease where a tumor develops on the surface of the tongue, lips, gums or mouth. Tumors may also occur in the pharynx, salivary glands and tonsils.

In 2013, American actor and producer Michael Douglas revealed that he had mouth cancer and not throat cancer, as what had been earlier reported. This revelation made the world talk about oral sex or cunnilingus which has been linked to mouth cancer.

Here are the five things you need to know about mouth cancer:

1. Mouth cancer is linked to oral sex.

According to Jesster Navarro, a visiting consultant at Makati Medical Center, who’s a diplomate of the Philippine Board of Otolaryngology, 30-32 percent incidents of mouth cancer are attributed to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection, specifically HPV 16, which is also associated to cervical cancer, penile and anal cancers.

Engaging in oral sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners can increase the chances of contracting HPV.

Being linked to HPV causes embarrassment to the patient that leaves them unchecked until they are already on the advanced stages of cancer. Patients only turn to doctors until they could no longer open their mouths or swallow.

“I really urge people, especially the sexually active, to do a self-examination of their mouths every two weeks,” The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Navarro as saying. “If you have a mouth sore that’s been there for more than two weeks, have yourself examined by a doctor.”

2. Mouth cancer has numerous symptoms.

Mouth cancer symptoms normally begin to appear when people are in their 50s and can affect both men and women. Some of the known symptoms include ulcers, white or red or patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue, and a lump.

Other mouth cancer symptoms include:

  • Bad Breath
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Throat obstruction
  • Numbness
  • Lump in the neck
  • Bleeding
  • Jaw pain and stiffness
  • Sore Throat
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficult or painful chewing
  • Soreness that doesn’t heal

Early detection can raise a 40 percent survival rate in the next five years while late detection gives a 20 percent chance of survival.​

3. Oral cancer is the ninth leading cause of cancer.

Navarro said that oral cancer is the ninth leading cause of cancer, especially among men in the Philippines. Other than contracting HPV, mouth cancer is also caused by smoking or using products that contain tobacco, betel nut chewing, poor oral hygiene and drinking.

The risk of acquiring mouth cancer significantly increases when the smoker also drinks, or when chewing betel nut that is already carcinogenic, is enjoyed with tobacco.

4. The signs of mouth cancer first appear on the tongue.

The first signs of mouth cancer appear on the tongue, and since it forms new blood vessels, it enables the cancer to spread easily.

5. Mouth cancer is a “very disabling” kind of cancer.

Navarro said that mouth cancer is a “very disabling kind ” of cancer because in its advanced stages, the patient can no longer open his mouth. Sometimes, parts of the mouth such as the tongue or jaw have to be removed.

Mouth cancer surgery is highly drastic, with some cases requiring the entire tongue to be removed. In order to pull out all the lymph nodes, half the jaw has to be removed as well.

However, patients with mouth cancer don’t have to lose hope because with therapy and rehabilitation, communication and swallowing can be restored over time. 

"The best prevention for this is  lifestyle change," Navarro said. "Get regular dental checkups, stop smoking and drinking."

He also advised those who are into oral sex to make sure that they are aware of the sexual history of their partner before engaging in the act.