MD REVIEW

When Coughs Become Cancerous

Oral Cancer Discovery

⚠️ Use Discretion: Graphic human anatomy images.
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I came across an anxious neighbor, Stan, last night. His mask covered the lower half of his face. But he appeared weak and lethar­gic. I asked if everything was all right. After some hesita­tion, he said “I am in trouble” and pulled down his mask.

The sight gave me goose­bumps. I never saw his full face like this. His upper lip was swollen with sores. In place of his lower lip and jaw was a prothesis. Neither of us could control our emotions. After regaining composure, he told me the whole story.

Don’t Ignore The Signs

It all started late last year. He went to a routine dental checkup, and the dentist told him to go directly to the hospital. At the oncology department, surgeons diagnosed his cancerous jaw. My neighbor detailed his symptoms of oral cancer.

  • Persistent mouth pain
  • Persistent mouth sores
  • White/red patches on gums
  • Numbness around mouth/tongue
  • Pain in jaw and teeth
  • Voice changes
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent bad breath/cough

Oral cancer photos
Advanced-stage oral cancers. Top left: Tongue cancer; Top right: Lip cancer; Bottom left: Tongue cancer; Bottom right: Lymphadenopathy

Coughing Out of Control

Stan ignored the initial cough, which became persis­tent, produced blood, and caused chest and back pain while coughing. He further added that early signs and symptoms of oral cancer are mistaken with other conditions like a cold, toothache, or TMJ. This is what led him to the dentist. I asked Stan, how to differ­en­tiate between a normal cough and cancerous cough? He told me some signs of a cancerous cough.

  • Cough that doesn’t go away and get worse with time
  • Cough with blood or rust colored sputum
  • Deep coughing with chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

Beyond The Mouth

Oral Cancer Symptoms

He told me that a cancerous cough could affect other parts of the body if not treated properly and timely. When cancer spreads into other parts of the body, it would cause bone pain, swelling of lymph nodes, nervous changes, and yellow­ish skin.

I asked Stan how he got oral cancer. In his case, it was prolonged chemical exposure at work. He told me other causes of oral cancer that his doctor shared.

  • Smoking, chewing or snuffing tobacco increase the risk of oral cancer.
  • Excessive alcohol drinking can dramatically increase the risk of oral cancer.
  • Oral cancer can also be genetic.
  • Exposure to UV rays can cause lip cancer.

Preventative Measures

I became a little uneasy listening to all these things because my father was a smoker and alcohol abuser. Stan shared preventative measures to save me from such dramatic outcomes. He told me that if someone is diagnosed with oral cancer at the first stage, it is easy to treat.

Everyone should examine their lips and gums using a bright light and mirror. Moreover, go to the dentist every 3–4 months. Here are some preventative measures Stan’s doctor told him:

  • Quit smoking and using tobacco products.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol.
  • Use sunscreens while going out to limit your exposure to the sun.

These sound like practical tips for preventing oral cancer. I find all this infor­mation so helpful, that I want to share it with you. Hopefully, you will also be alert to early signs and regular checkups. This can prevent you from going through this drastic ordeal.