In an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer (2/7), Dr. Eric T. Stoopler, an associate professor of oral medicine, discusses a patient who suffered from treatment-resistant mouth sores and skin lesions and “died of respiratory failure about a year after he first noticed the mouth sores.” Before his death, “immunological blood tests suggested the patient’s mouth sores and skin lesions were actually symptoms of an condition called paraneoplastic pemphigus, usually caused by an underlying cancer,” and a biopsy revealed lymphoma. Dr. Stoopler said that “this patient’s case underscores the importance of regular dental exams and prompt evaluation of oral sores that don’t heal quickly on their own,” adding that “these lesions may be the first signs of a possibly life-threatening condition.”
What is the lesson? Well, there are many! The first one is to never ignore a mouth ulcer that is unlike any that you have had before. Second, if an ulcer persists more than two weeks, get it looked at. Third, request a biopsy unless the doctor is certain of the diagnosis; some common ulcerative conditions are diagnosable based on their presentation, history, symptoms … and the doctor’s knowledge and experience.
Generally, ulcers in the mouth are benign and most heal without intervention. However, ulcers can also be a sign of cancers, and rapid treatment is essential in order to avoid serious surgeries and followup treatment – or to even save your life! Oral cancers are on the rise, and many present as ulcers.