Oral cancer is simply any cancer that starts in the mouth. In general, oral cancer is ranked in larger groups of cancer identified as head and neck cancers. Most of the mouth cancer types develop in the squamous cells present in the mouth, lips, and tongue.
In the United States alone, over 49,000 oral cancer cases are diagnosed each year with prevalence in people of 40 years and above. Mostly, oral cancer is detected once it has spread to the lymph nodes of the neck region. When detected early, your chances of survival are higher.
General Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Some of the most common symptoms of oral cancer are:
- Soreness or feeling of a lump stuck in the back of the throat.
- Difficulty in chewing and swallowing.
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth.
- The appearance of white, red and white, or red patches in your mouth or lips.
- A persistent earache.
- Chronic sore throat and change in voice.
- Drastic weight loss.
- A change in teeth structures.
While some of these symptoms may suggest that you have oral cancer, others are associated with other illnesses. You should always see the doctor for a regular checkup so that they may know what’s ailing you.
Diagnosis of Oral Cancers
Oral cancer is detected when first, your doctor performs a physical examination in various parts of your mouth. He/she may closely examine your mouth’s roof and floor, your tongue, cheeks, the lymph nodes in your neck, and the back of your throat.
If any tumors are detected from the examination, your doctor will perform a tissue biopsy or brush biopsy. A tissue biopsy is a process of removing a piece of the tissue for it to be examined for any cancerous condition. On the other hand, a brush biopsy requires collecting cells from the tumor by brushing them onto a slide for study.
Types of Oral Cancers
- Gums and Jaw cancer.
- Lips Cancer.
- Tongue cancer.
- Hard and soft palate.
- The floor of the mouth.
- Inner cheek lining.
Of all these types of oral cancers, we will only concentrate on the three main ones below.
Gums and Jaw Cancer
Gum and jaw cancer begins from the upper and lower gums and progresses and attacks the underlying jaw. The leading causes of gum cancer include chewing tobacco, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption. Gum cancer comes with symptoms such as bleeding, thickening of the gums, cracking, or sore in the gums.
Gum cancer treatment may demand that some parts or full segments of the upper or lower jaw bone. If the cancer is more advanced, and the patient has to undergo the removal of the full segment of the jawbone, a facial reconstruction will have to be done.
A virtual Surgical Planning (VSP) surgery stimulated by computer-based technology is done by Penn Head and Neck reconstructive surgeons to customize jawbone implants for ideal results accurately. This technique also reduces the time spent in the operating room as it uses the latest styles.
It is the most common oral cancer and is commonly reported to affect men. It is divided into two types; the squamous cell and the basal cell. The majority of reported lip cancer cases are always on the squamous cell. Its symptoms include a sore on the lip that doesn’t heal, a neck mass, a lump or thickening on the lip, lip numbness or persistent lip paint, and a white or red patch on the lip.
An ideal treatment plan of lip cancer is a process that causes little to no damage to the healthy tissues in your lips and leads to a few side effects. If the lip cancer has been detected in the early stages, surgery is always the first option for treatment. Depending on your cancer stage and advancement, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy or a combination of all these may work well for lip cancer treatment.
In the U.S, tongue cancer is the most common form of mouth cancer recorded, and it occurs in the front two-thirds of the tongue. It is a high-risk form of cancer as it spreads faster to the lymph nodes within the neck. A patient with tongue cancer may experience bleeding, pain, red or white patches on the tongue, numbness, and difficulty swallowing.
Tongue cancer treatment may involve several procedures either performed alone or in combination to remove the cancerous part.
The doctor may opt for surgical treatment where an operation is done to remove the entire tumor from the tongue.
Another option would be the use of radiation therapy. Here the radiation oncologist will administer high doses of radiation to the cancerous tissues in the tongue. This technology spares the healthy tissues of the tongue and takes a shorter time to perform.
Targeted drug therapy can also work by interfering with the growth of cancer cells on a molecular level. It can be performed along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to optimize a patient’s healing chances.
Chemotherapy is the other option of treatment one can consider. This is where drugs are administered to destroy cancer cells all over the body. It is an ideal option when cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes. An effective way of administering these drugs may include using various drugs at different cancer stages. This helps to decrease the chance of drug resistance.
It is always said, prevention is better than cure. The same goes for oral cancer; you should make it your aim to avoid acquiring oral cancer by keeping off habits and activities such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unprotected sex, etc. When you keep all these in mind and follow the laid down oral cancer prevention measures, you will always be safe.
Any form of cancer can be treated and managed if detected and taken care of early. There is always no call for alarm once you are diagnosed early enough. The treatment duration differs according to the type of oral cancer you may have or its stage.