Oral cancer refers to cancer which develops in any of the parts that make the mouth. It appears as a sore or growth in the mouth that does not disappear. Oral cancer includes cancers of tongue, lips, gums, roof of the mouth, lining of cheeks and floor of the mouth. This condition can be life threatening if not treated at early stages.
Causes of Oral Cancer
Research at the American Cancer Society has stated that men are at double the risk than women in developing oral cancers and also men above 50 are at higher risk. Research has also shown that those with certain risk factors are more likely to develop oral cancer.
Risk factors for oral cancer include:
Smoking – Smoking cigars, cigarettes and pipes, all these increase the risk of oral cancer.
Smokeless tobacco – Chewing tobacco products and dipping snuff also increase the risk by nearly 50 times. These smokeless tobacco users develop cancers of gums, cheeks and lining of lips.
Alcohol – People who drink are at higher risk to develop oral cancer than those who don’t drink. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol a person drinks. The risk is high if the person both smokes and drinks.
Family history – Oral cancer is hereditary and it can be passes through generations.
Sun exposure – Excessive exposure to sun’s radiations at a very young age can cause oral cancer, especially cancer of the lip.
Sexually transmitted virus – Human papilloma virus (HPV) also causes oral cancer which is sexually transmitted.
It is vital to observe that about 25% of oral cancers develop in non smokers and who drink alcohol occasionally.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:
- A thickening or lump of the skin
- Persistent sores on mouth, neck and face, which bleed easily
- Loose teeth
- Reddish or white patch inside the mouth
- Tongue pain
- Change in fitting dentures
- Painful swallowing and chewing
- Jaw pain and stiffness
- Feeling of something stuck in the throat
- Sore throat
- Ear pain
- Sudden weight loss
Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
Tests and procedures used to diagnose oral cancer are:
Physical examination – As a part of general dental check up, the dentist examines for lumps or any abnormal tissue changes in your oral cavity, neck, face and head. While examining the mouth, the dentist looks for any sores and discolored tissues and also checks for the symptoms of oral cancer.
Oral biopsy – If your dentist finds any tissue or lump in the oral cavity, he/she may remove a small sample of that tissue in a procedure called biopsy. The abnormal cells are scraped, cut using a scalpel, and analyzed for cancer or precancerous stages.
Treatment for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer treatment may include either one treatment or a combination of treatments. It is treated the same way as other cancers are treated. Treatment includes surgical removal of the cancerous growth. Surgery is also combined with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy for large cancerous growths.
Other treatment for oral cancer includes speech therapy to improve the oral cavity movement, speech, chewing and swallowing.
Care / Prevention of Oral Cancer
There is no cure for oral cancer. However, the risk can be reduced by following some measures.
Quit tobacco – Stop using tobacco, tobacco products, smoking if you are a smoker. Also, do not start the habit as this is the major risk factor for developing oral cancer.
Reduce alcohol consumption – Excess alcohol consumption can irritate the cells and tissues of the oral cavity, making them susceptible to oral cancer. If you are unable to quit this habit, limit yourself to one drink a day.
Eat nutritious fruits and vegetables – Select nutritious fruits and vegetables. The minerals and vitamins present in fruits and vegetables help in reducing the risk of oral cancer.
Minimize exposure to sun – Frequent exposure to sun’s radiations increases the risk of lip cancer, especially the lower lip. While in sun, use sunscreen lip balms.
Go for regular dental checkups – Sometimes dangerous sores or spots may develop in the oral cavity which will be very difficult to visualize. The American Cancer Society suggests screening exams for the oral cancer every three years for individuals above 20 years. The next time you visit the dentist, ask for entire mouth inspection to find for any abnormal areas present in the mouth.