Oral cancer, which belongs to a larger group of head and neck cancers, is cancer that grows in the mouth or throat. The cancer may also develop in one’s mouth, tongue, and lips, with men being twice as likely to get it as women.
Each year, more than 50,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the U.S., with people over 40 years old most likely to get it. Only early detection of the cancer may ensure survival.
What are the types of oral cancers?
Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, tongue, gums. Your doctor is the first person to observe early symptoms of the disease. You can keep your dentist up-to-date about the health of the mouth through biannual dental checkups.
What are the risk factors for developing oral cancer?
Tobacco use—such as smoking cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco—is one of the biggest risk factors for mouth cancer. Individuals who consume large amounts of alcohol and tobacco are at an even greater risk, particularly when both products are used frequently. Other risk factors include persistent facial exposure to the Sun, a family history, poor diet, genetic syndromes, and a weak immune system.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
Symptoms of oral cancer include a wound on one’s lips or mouth that won’t heal; a mass or growth anywhere in your mouth; difficult swallowing; pain in your ears; inexplicable weight loss; jaw pain or stiffness; or a sour throat.
Some of the signs, such as a sore throat or an earache, may be indicative of other problems. Nevertheless, if you observe any of these symptoms, particularly if they remain persistent or you have more than one at a time, consult your doctor at the earliest.
How is oral cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor or dentist will first carry out a physical exam, which includes meticulously examining your mouth, the back of your throat, tongue, and cheeks, and your neck. If your doctor cannot ascertain why you’re having your symptoms, you should consult an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
If your doctor finds any tumors, growths, or suspicious lesions, they’ll do a brush biopsy or a tissue biopsy. A brush biopsy is a simple test that gathers cells from the tumor by brushing them onto a slide. A tissue biopsy includes eliminating a piece of the tissue so it can be scrutinized under a microscope for cancerous cells. Generally, 65 percent of all people with oral cancer will survive for five years or more. The chance of survival following treatment is higher if the disease is diagnosed earlier.
How is oral cancer treated?
Treatment for early stages typically includes surgery to eliminate the tumor and malignant lymph nodes. Other tissue around the mouth and neck may also be taken out.
Another option, radiation therapy includes a doctor pointing radiation beams at the tumor once or twice a day, for two to eight weeks.
It is a treatment with drugs that destroy cancer cells. The medicine is given to you either orally or through an intravenous (IV) line. Most people get chemotherapy on an outpatient basis, while some require hospitalization.
Targeted therapy can be effective in both early and advanced stages of cancer. Targeted therapy drugs will bind to particular proteins on cancer cells and intervene with their growth.
Nutrition also plays a key role in your oral cancer treatment. Many treatments make it hard or painful to eat and swallow, and poor hunger and weight loss are common. Ensure you discuss your diet with your doctor.
Keeping your mouth healthy
Lastly, keeping your mouth healthy during cancer treatments is a vital part of treatment. Ensure to keep your mouth clammy and your teeth and gums clean.