Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the tissues in the mouth, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, and roof or floor of the mouth. It occurs when abnormal cells grow and multiplies uncontrollably in the oral cavity.
Around 50,000 individuals in the United States expose to oral cancer annually and 70% are men. But how dangerous is it? Is oral cancer curable?
When oral cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, it can be easier for physicians to start oral cancer medication and put a stopper on the spread. However, oral cancer can be life threatening if it is not treated or diagnosed timely. How would you know that you have oral cancer, or what are the risks and symptoms of oral cancer? Keep reading to know.
Risk Factors for Developing Oral Cancer
The largest reason for developing oral cancer is tobacco use. People who consume alcohol or smoke tobacco are at high risk of developing oral cancer. The risk gets even bigger when they both are used together.
Risks of Oral Cancer may Include
- Chronic facial sun exposure
- A weakened immune system
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- A previous diagnosis of oral cancer
- Genetic syndrome
- Poor nutrition
- Family history of oral cancer
- Being an alcoholic or a smoker
Early detection is important for the successful treatment of oral cancer. Regular dental checkups can help detect early signs of oral cancer. If you have any symptoms or concerns, it is important to consult a healthcare professional.
What are the Early Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Early stage mouth cancer sympoms may vary from person to person and depends on the location and stage of the cancer. Some of the common symptoms might include:
- A sore in the mouth that doesn't heal or keeps coming back
- A lump or thickening in the cheek, tongue or gums
- Persistent mouth pain or discomfort
- Difficulty or pain while chewing or swallowing
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Numbness or tingling in the mouth or lips
- A change in the way the teeth fit together or a change in denture fit
- A persistent sore throat or hoarseness
- Swelling of the jaw or neck
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Changes in speech or difficulty speaking
- Persistent bad breath
- Trouble wearing dentures
- A lump in the neck
- Dramatic weight loss
- Stiffness or jaw pain
- Loose teeth
- Tongue pain
- White, red, and red & white patches inside or on the mouth
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment of oral cancer can improve the chances of successful treatment and recovery.
Who Gets Oral Cancer?
In light of the study shared by the American Cancer Society, men have double the risk of developing oral cancer than women.
Oral cancer can affect anyone, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing the disease. Some of the common risk factors for oral cancer include:
Tobacco use: Smoking and smokeless tobacco use are the leading causes of oral cancer. Tobacco use increases the risk of oral cancer by up to 6 times.
Excessive alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption is also a major risk factor for oral cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.
HPV infection: Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV16, are linked to oral cancer.
Sun exposure: Prolonged exposure to the sun can increase the risk of lip cancer.
Age: Oral cancer is more common in people over the age of 45.
Gender: Men are more likely to develop oral cancer than women.
Poor diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of oral cancer.
Genetics: A family history of cancer or certain genetic conditions may increase the risk of oral cancer.
It is important to note that some people who develop oral cancer may not have any of these risk factors, while others who have these risk factors may never develop the disease. Regular dental checkups and early detection are crucial for successful treatment and recovery from oral cancer.
How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?
Oral cancer can be diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, medical history, and diagnostic tests. Here are some common ways oral cancer is diagnosed:
Physical exam: During a physical exam, a healthcare professional will examine your mouth, tongue, and throat for any signs of abnormal tissue growth or sores.
Biopsy: If abnormal tissue growth is detected, a biopsy may be done to determine if it is cancerous. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans, may be used to determine the size and location of cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Endoscopy: An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a camera that is used to examine the inside of the mouth and throat.
HPV testing: If oral cancer is suspected to be caused by HPV, a test may be done to detect the presence of HPV in the cells of the mouth or throat.
Regular dental checkups and oral cancer screenings can help detect the disease at an early stage when it is easier to treat. If you have any symptoms or concerns, it is important to consult a healthcare professional.
Stages of Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer, like many other types of cancer, is typically classified into stages based on the size and location of the tumor and the extent of cancer's spread to nearby tissues or organs. The stages of oral cancer are:
Stage 0: This is the earliest stage of oral cancer, also known as carcinoma in situ. The cancer is confined to the surface layer of cells in the mouth and has not spread to nearby tissues.
Stage 1: The tumor is small, usually less than 2 cm, and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues.
Stage 2: The tumor is larger than 2 cm but less than 4 cm and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues.
Stage 3: The tumor is larger than 4 cm and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other organs.
Stage 4: This is the most advanced stage of oral cancer. The tumor may be any size and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs, such as the lungs, liver, or bones.
Within each stage, oral cancer may also be further classified based on factors such as the depth of the tumor invasion, the number of affected lymph nodes, and the presence of distant metastases. The stage and classification of oral cancer are important factors in determining the appropriate treatment plan and predicting the likely outcome of cancer.
Treatment through oral cancer medication
The treatment of oral cancer usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The choice of medication will depend on the stage and location of cancer, as well as the individual's overall health and other factors.
Some of the medications that may be used to treat oral cancer include:
Chemotherapy drugs: Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs that may be used to treat oral cancer include cisplatin, carboplatin, and fluorouracil.
Targeted therapy drugs: Targeted therapy drugs are designed to target specific proteins or genes that are involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs that may be used to treat oral cancer include cetuximab and erlotinib.
Immunotherapy drugs: Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy drugs that may be used to treat oral cancer include nivolumab and pembrolizumab.
Pain relievers: If the cancer is causing pain, medications such as acetaminophen or opioids may be used to relieve pain.
It is important to note that the use of oral cancer medication is typically part of a comprehensive treatment plan, which may also include surgery and radiation therapy. The specific treatment plan will depend on the individual's condition and the stage of cancer.
Recovering from Oral Cancer Treatment
Recovering from oral cancer treatment can be a long process that may involve a range of physical and emotional challenges. The specific recovery process will depend on the type and extent of treatment, as well as the individual's overall health and other factors. Here are some general tips that may be helpful for recovering from oral cancer treatment:
Follow your healthcare provider's instructions:
Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions on how to care for yourself after treatment, such as how to care for your mouth, what foods to eat, and what activities to avoid. It's important to follow these instructions closely to ensure the best possible outcome.
Manage side effects:
Many treatments for oral cancer can cause side effects such as pain, difficulty eating or speaking, fatigue, and emotional distress. Your healthcare provider can recommend strategies to manage these side effects, such as pain medication, physical therapy, or counseling.
Eat a healthy diet:
A healthy diet can help you recover more quickly from treatment and improve your overall health. Your healthcare provider can recommend specific foods or supplements that may be beneficial.
Drinking plenty of fluids is important for keeping your body hydrated and promoting healing. Your healthcare provider may recommend a specific amount of fluids to drink each day.
Get plenty of rest:
Rest is important for allowing your body to heal after treatment. Make sure to get enough sleep and avoid overexertion.
Gentle exercise can help promote healing and reduce the risk of complications such as blood clots. Your healthcare provider can recommend specific exercises or activities that are safe for you.
Recovering from oral cancer can be emotionally challenging, and it's important to seek support from family, friends, or a support group. Your healthcare provider can also recommend counseling or other resources to help you cope with the emotional effects of cancer treatment.
The recovery process will vary depending on the individual's specific situation. It's important to work closely with your healthcare provider and follow their recommendations to ensure the best possible outcome.
What Can You Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
There are several things you can do to help reduce the risk of developing oral cancer:
Avoid tobacco: Tobacco use, whether smoked or chewed, is the leading cause of oral cancer. Quitting smoking or using smokeless tobacco can help reduce the risk of oral cancer.
Limit alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption is also a major risk factor for oral cancer. Limiting alcohol consumption can help reduce the risk.
Practice good oral hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing can help remove harmful bacteria from the mouth and reduce the risk of oral cancer.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help provide the body with essential nutrients and reduce the risk of oral cancer.
Protect yourself from the sun: Prolonged exposure to the sun can increase the risk of lip cancer. Use a lip balm or lipstick with an SPF of 30 or higher, and wear a hat to protect your lips and face from the sun.
Get vaccinated against HPV: Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are linked to oral cancer. Getting vaccinated against HPV can help reduce the risk of oral cancer.
Regular dental checkups: Regular dental checkups and oral cancer screenings can help detect the disease at an early stage when it is easier to treat.
It is important to note that some people who develop oral cancer may not have any of these risk factors, while others who have these risk factors may never develop the disease. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle and attending regular checkups and screenings can help reduce the risk of developing oral cancer.
How long does oral cancer take to spread
The rate at which oral cancer spreads can vary widely depending on various factors, including the tumour's location, the type and aggressiveness of cancer, and the individual's overall health. In some cases, oral cancer may grow and spread slowly over several years, while in other cases, it may progress more rapidly.
Is oral cancer curable if caught early
Yes, oral cancer is generally more treatable and has a better chance of being cured early. When oral cancer is detected in its early stages, it is often smaller and has not spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes. This makes it more amenable to treatment and can increase the chances of a complete cure.
Which cancer is not curable?
Chronic myeloid leukaemia.
Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.
Secondary bone cancer.
Secondary breast cancer.
Secondary brain tumours.
Secondary lung cancer.
Secondary liver cancer.
For several reasons, seeing a doctor for early oral cancer detection can be incredibly helpful. Early detection leads to better outcomes, and treatment is less invasive. When oral cancer is detected early, it can lead to a quicker recovery time and fewer side effects. Even if the doctor does not find any signs of cancer, getting a screening can provide peace of mind and help reduce anxiety. Doctors can provide advice on healthy lifestyle habits, such as avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.
Overall, seeing a doctor for early oral cancer detection is important for both prevention and treatment. Regular checkups and screenings can lead to earlier detection and better outcomes, making it an important part of overall health and well-being.
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