Oral Cancer can be termed as the uncontrolled growth of cells within the oral cavities which include cancer of the cheeks, lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, roof of the mouth, gums, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat. Also known as Mouth Cancer, it appears as an extra growth or sore in the mouth cavities that do not go away easily. It is a type of cancer that can be grouped under the head and neck cancer category and is often treated in a similar manner. Also Read: Oesophageal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Oral or mouth cancer happens when cells within the oral cavity start abnormal mutation leading to an accumulation of abnormal growth of cells that slowly form a tumour. In the mouth, cancer usually starts as a painless white patch, that solidifies, develops red patches, an ulcer, and continues to grow. When on the lips, the cancerous tumour looks like a persistent crusting ulcer that does not heal and slowly grows bigger. Over time, cancer may spread within the mouth onto other parts of the head or neck and even throughout the body.
According to a health survey, men are twice at risk of developing oral cancer rather than women. The various risk factors that contribute to having oral cancer include:
- Consumption of tobacco in various forms
- Excessive intake of alcohol
- Extreme sun exposure
- Infection due to an HPV (i.e. Human papillomavirus) strain
- Family history of oral or other types of cancer
- Hereditary abnormality
- Weakened immune system
- Poor nutrition
Just like other types of cancer, there are hardly any noticeable symptoms in the initial stages. But one must be careful and get it checked if you spot any signs of leukoplakia, that appear as white patches in the mouth or oral lichen planus which appear as areas of white lines with a reddish border, accompanied with ulceration. The other symptoms develop with time and include:
- Ulcer or a sore on the lip or mouth that won’t heal
- Loose teeth
- Pain and difficulty in swallowing, chewing or speaking
- White or red patches in your mouth
- A mouth sore that won't heal
- Bleeding in your mouth as in the case of gum disease
- Lump in your neck
- Severe earache
- Lump or thickening of the gums
- Swelling in the jaws
- Difficulty in moving the tongue or jaw
- Hoarse voice
- Bleeding or pain in the mouth
- Poorly fitted dentures
- Drastic weight loss
Diagnosis And Treatment
If you notice any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, get checked by an orthodontist right away. The dentist will usually conduct an oral cancer screening exam by physically feeling the lump or sore or patchy irritated skin in the mouth. On any kind of suspicion, the doctor may take mouth swabs and pieces of the skin from the lump, sore etc to perform a biopsy, to analyse precancerous stages or active cancer cells.
Stages Of Oral Cancer:
Stage I: Formation of a 2cm or smaller tumour without spreading up to the lymph nodes.
Stage II: Growth of the tumour, ranging from 2-4 cm without spreading to the lymph nodes.
Stage III: Size of tumour becomes more than 4cm but hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes or has spread to only one lymph node but not to other parts of the body.
Stage IV: Termed as the last or advanced stage when the tumours become quite large and the cancer cells have spread on to the surrounding tissues and other parts of the body.
On confirmation of cancer, the doctor may perform a procedure called endoscopy, where a micro camera fitted to a tube is sent through the oesophagus. This is done to understand the extent of the spread of cancer cells. Other diagnostic procedures to identify the correct cancer stage includes:
- Barium-swallow X-ray
- Imaging techniques like CT-Scan, PET-Scan, MRI-Scan, Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Just like any other carcinoma, oral or mouth cancer is usually treated depending upon the type, location and particular stage of cancer. It usually involves:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Hyperthermia therapy
Although there isn’t any proper way to prevent any type of cancer, still it is in our hands to follow a few simple measures to reduce the risk of getting oral cancer. These include:
- Stop using tobacco. Also Read: How To Quit Smoking & Chewing Tobacco
- Avoid chewing betel nut
- Limit drinking of alcohol
- Avoid excessive exposure to sun rays or use proper sun protectants
- Get regular dental check-ups
- Protect against HPV by taking proper vaccination