Oral Cancer develops in the throat or mouth tissues. Most of this type of cancer develops in the squamous cells found in the lips, tongue and mouth. It often occurs in people who are over 40 years of age. By the time it is detected, it has usually spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. Like other cancers, early detection is the key to successful treatment.
Kinds of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is of 6 types as given below:
- Inner cheeks
- Floor of mouth
- Soft and hard palate
One of the reasons why we should have regular dental checkups is that if there are any signs of oral cancer, the dentist is the first to see them and alert you to the symptoms.
Causes of Oral Cancer
One of the biggest contributing factors to oral cancer is the use of tobacco. This includes use of cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Chewing tobacco is one of the major causes of oral cancer.
Also, people consuming large quantities of tobacco and alcohol are at higher risk. Apart from these, the following also cause oral cancer:
- HPV Infection
- Exposure of face skin to sun
- Previous history of oral cancer
- Family history of cancer
- Weak immune system
- Genetic mutation
- Bad nutrition
- Gender (Male)
Men are twice as susceptible to oral cancer than women.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
People suffering from oral cancer exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- Mouth or lip sores that do not heal
- Tissue mass in the mouth
- Non-stop bleeding in the mouth
- Mouth ulcers, loose teeth
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Lump in neck
- Untreatable painful ear
- Sudden weight loss
- Numbness of chin, neck, lower lip or face
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Stiff or painful jaw
- Painful tongue
- Sore throat
Some of these symptoms can also indicate something seasonal like the flu. However, if they do not go away even after taking antibiotics or stay for a long time, it is best to take preventive measures and consult your physician or dentist as soon as you can.
Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
Diagnosing oral cancer involves examination of the floor and roof of the mouth, tongues, cheeks, throat and the neck’s lymph nodes. If there are no symptoms of the mouth, you will be referred to an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist.
If there is any growth, lesions or tumours, the doctor will perform a biopsy so that the cells can be examined in a laboratory. The biopsy will determine if the cells are cancerous.
The following tests may also be recommended by your doctor:
- CT Scan of the body to determine tumours in the lungs, neck or mouth;
- X-Ray to determine where the cancer cells have spread;
- PET Scan for determining if the cancer cells have spread to the neck’s lymph nodes or any other part of the body;
- Endoscopy for examining sinuses, nasal passages, trachea, windpipe and the inner throat;
- MRI Scan for precise information on cancer and to determine the stage of cancer.
Stages of Oral Cancer
Oral Cancer has four stages as given below: –
- Stage 1 – This is the stage in which the size of a tumour is 2 cm or less. The tumour is contained in the specific area and has not spread.
- Stage 2 – The size of the tumour increases and is 2 cm to 4 cm. The cancer cells are still contained and have not spread
- Stage 3 – The size of the tumour is immaterial, though it may be 4cm and either less or more. But the deciding factor is where cancer has spread. It may have moved to a lymph node.
- Stage 4 – The size of the tumour may be big or small. The deciding factor of this stage is determining the location of the cancer cells and where they have spread. It can be to other parts of the body, the tissues or the lymph nodes.
According to a study conducted by National Cancer Institute:
- If the cancer is localized, then there is 83% of survival rate are for 5 years.
- If the cancer is now present in the lymph nodes, then there is 64% of survival rate for 5 years.
- Finally, if cancer has spread to other body parts, then the survival rate for 5 years drastically comes down to 38%.
The earlier the diagnosis, the higher the survival rate for 5 years.
Treatment of Oral Cancer
Treatment of oral cancer is of 6 types and depends on the type of cancer, its location and finally, the stage. Here are the 6 types of treatment for oral cancer:
- Surgery – Surgery is recommended if the cancer is detected at an early stage. An operation is performed to remove the tumour and the tissues in and around the neck and mouth where the cancer cells are present.
- Radiation Therapy – The doctor gives radiation on those areas where the tumour and the cancer cells are present. The therapy may be given for up to eight weeks depending on the stage of cancer.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy kills cancer cells. The medicine is fed inside the body either intravenously or orally. Usually, chemotherapy does not require hospitalization.
- Targeted Therapy – In targeted therapy, the drugs interfere with the growth of cancerous cells by binding specific proteins on them. It is effective in both the early and later stages of cancer.
- Nutrition – Nutrition plays a big role in the treatment of oral cancer. After the therapies, it becomes difficult to swallow or eat. The physician will prescribe a change in diet to ensure good health during the treatment.
- Healthy Mouth – Lastly, it is essential to keep the mouth health during the treatment.
You will need frequent follow-ups after the treatment to ensure recovery. Do not miss those follow-ups as it is during these check-ups that the oncologist notices any abnormality. If you have a routine dental check-up, then please do follow up with the dentist. The dentist will be one of the first people who will observe the changes in your mouth alert you and your oncologist to the fact. And this can be what saves your life.