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Oral cancer is a type of cancer that affects the mouth’s inner tissues, also known as oral mucosa. It can occur on the lips, tongue, gums, inside the cheeks, and even on the roof of the mouth. While oral cancer can be deadly, it is also one of the most treatable forms of cancer when caught early.
In this patient’s guide to oral cancer, we will cover everything you need to know about this disease, including its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. We hope that this information will help you fight oral cancer successfully.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the mucosa of the mouth. The mouth is made up of different types of mucosa that line different parts of the oral cavity, including:
- The lips
- The gums
- The inside of the cheeks
- The tongue
- The roof of the mouth (hard palate)
Cancer can develop from any of these issues. When oral cancer starts on the lips, it is usually found on the lower lip. This type of oral cancer is called lip cancer. Lip cancer may also spread to other parts of the lip or nearby areas, such as the gums, cheek, or even the nose.
- Tongue cancer: When oral cancer occurs on the tongue, it is usually found on the front or side of the tongue. This type of oral cancer is called tongue cancer. Tongue cancer may also spread to other parts of the tongue or nearby areas, such as the gums, cheek, or throat.
- Gum cancer: It is a type of oral cancer that starts in the gums. It is also known as periodontal cancer. Gum cancer may also spread to other parts of the gums or nearby areas, such as the teeth, cheeks, or even the throat.
- Cheek cancer: is a type of oral cancer that starts on the inside lining of the cheek. This type of oral cancer is also called buccal mucosa cancer. Inside of the cheek, cancer may also spread to other parts of the inside of the cheek or nearby areas, such as the gums, tongue, or even the throat.
- Palate cancer: Oral cancer can also occur on the roof of the mouth (hard palate). This type of oral cancer is called palate cancer. Palate cancer may also spread to other parts of the roof of the mouth or nearby areas, such as the gums, cheek, or even the nose.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The early stages of oral cancer often do not cause any symptoms. This is one reason why oral cancer can be so deadly. Cancer may have already spread to other parts of the body by the time symptoms appear.
However, there are some warning signs that you should be aware of, including:
- A sore or irritation that does not go away
- A lump or growth in the mouth
- Bleeding in the mouth
- Numbness in the mouth or lips
- A change in the color of the tissue in the mouth
- A change in the texture of the tissue in the mouth
- A sore throat that does not go away
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away. Only a professional can determine if you have oral cancer or another condition.
Causes of Oral Cancer
The main cause of oral cancer is smoking. Other risk factors for oral cancer include:
- Tobacco: Tobacco is a huge risk factor for oral cancer, whether smoked or chewed.
- Heavy alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing oral cancer. The risk is greater if you drink alcohol and smoke tobacco.
- Poor nutrition: Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables may increase your risk of developing oral cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a virus that can cause certain types of cancers, including oral cancer. The HPV vaccine can help protect against HPV-related cancers.
- Exposure to sunlight: Exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of developing lip cancer.
- Oral piercings: Oral piercings can damage the tissues in your mouth and increase your risk of developing oral cancer
Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
If your doctor suspects that you have oral cancer, they will likely order one or more of the following tests:
- Physical exam: During a physical exam, your doctor will inspect your mouth for any lumps, growths, or other changes. They may also feel your neck and lymph nodes for any swellings.
- Biopsy: It is the only way to diagnose oral cancer definitively. During a biopsy, your doctor will remove a small tissue sample from the suspicious area in your mouth. The tissue will then be sent to a lab to be examined for cancerous cells.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, may be ordered to check for cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
- Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to look inside your mouth and throat. A thin, flexible tube with a camera on end will be inserted through your nose or mouth. This will allow your doctor to get a closer look at any suspicious areas.
Treatment of Oral Cancer
The treatment for oral cancer will depend on the stage of cancer and the size and location of the tumor. Treatment options may include:
Surgery is often the first line of treatment for oral cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tissue and a margin of healthy tissue around it. Surgery may be performed using a scalpel, laser, or microwave. In some cases, part or all of the tongue may need to be removed.
It uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used before or after surgery.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery.
Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that focuses on specific abnormalities in cancer cells. This helps to kill the cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.
Prevention of Oral Cancer
Some lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of developing oral cancer, including:
- Quitting tobacco: Smoking or chewing tobacco (gutka, pan masala) is the most critical risk factor for oral cancer. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.
Limiting alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing oral cancer. If you drink alcohol, it’s better to do so in moderation.
- Protecting your lips from the sun: Using a lip balm or lip balm with SPF can help protect your lips from the harmful effects of the sun.
- Eating a healthy diet: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may help reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): human papillomavirus (HPV), is a risk factor for oral cancer. The HPV vaccine is available for both boys and girls, and it can help protect against HPV-related cancers.
- Regular dental checkups: Seeing your dentist routinely can help catch any problems early on. During a dental exam, your dentist will check your mouth for any changes that may indicate oral cancer.
Oral Cancer Screening
Screening for oral cancer is recommended for people at high risk, such as smokers and heavy drinkers. Screening tests may include:
- Visual Exam: During a visual exam, your dentist or doctor will inspect your mouth for any lumps, growths, or other changes.
- Palpation Exam: A palpation exam involves feeling the tissues in your mouth and neck for any swellings.
- Brush Biopsy: A brush biopsy is a quick and painless way to collect cells from the lining of your mouth. The cells will then be examined for cancerous changes.
- Oral Rinse: An oral rinse can help detect abnormal cells in your mouth. To do an oral rinse, you will be asked to swish a solution in your mouth and then spit it out. Later, the solution is sent to a lab for examining it for cancer cells.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice any changes in your mouth, such as a sore that doesn’t heal, a lump, or bleeding, it’s important to see your dentist or doctor right away. These changes can indicate oral cancer.
If you are at high risk for oral cancer, getting screened regularly is essential. Screening tests can help detect oral cancer early when it is most treatable. Talk to your dentist or doctor about how often you should be screened.
The outcomes for the treatment of oral cancers depend on the diagnosis’s stage and type of cancer. It also depends on your overall health, age, response, and tolerance to treatment.
Early diagnosis is critical because early stages have a higher chance of successful treatment. After treatment, you may need to undergo frequent checkups to ensure your recovery and help prevent any recurrences.
Make sure to follow up with your dentist or oncologist if you observe anything unusual inside your mouth.
To know more about oral cancers, schedule an appointment with our specialists!
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