Cancer is defined as the uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore that does not go away. Oral cancer which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheek, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat) can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
The term oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and the pharynx, part of the throat. About two-thirds of oral cancers occur in the mouth and about one-third are found in the pharynx. Oral cancer will be diagnosed in an estimated 28,000 Americans this year and will cause approximately 7,000 deaths. It is the 6th most common cancer in men and the 14th most common cancer in women.
Each year, more than 30,000 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx are diagnosed and over 8,000 deaths due to oral cancer occur. The 5-year survival rate for these cancers is only about 50 percent. Mortality from oral cancer is nearly twice as high in some minorities (especially black males) as it is in whites. Methods used to treat oral cancers (surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy) are disfiguring and costly. Preventing high risk behaviors, that include cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, and excessive use of alcohol are critical in preventing oral cancers. Early detection is key to increasing the survival rate for these cancers.
Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth or throat. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth.
Anyone can get oral cancer, but the risk is higher if you are male, over age 40, use tobacco or alcohol or have a history of head or neck cancer. Frequent sun exposure is also a risk for lip cancer. Smoking and other tobacco use are associated with 70-80% of oral cancer cases. Smoke and heat from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes irritate the mucous membranes of the mouth. Use of chewing tobacco or snuff causes irritation from direct contact with the mucous membranes. Heavy alcohol use is another high-risk activity associated with oral cancer.
Oral cancer is as common as leukemia and kills more Americans each year than either skin or cervical cancer. Patients with oral cancer have a poor prognosis, and the 5-year survival rate of approximately 50% has remained unchanged for the past 50 years. Perhaps the single most important reason for this is the fact that oral cancers continue to be diagnosed in advanced stages.
Research studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the survival rate for oral cancer patients increases dramatically when the diagnosis is established in early stages.
Oral cancer can spread quickly, early detection is important. An oral cancer exam can identify early signs of this disease. The exam is quick and painless, and can be done during your regular dental check-up. Be sure to tell your dentist if you notice persistent changes in your mouth or throat, such as sores, swelling, or numbness, or if you have difficulty eating or swallowing.
Approximately 35,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. Some 25 percent of those people will die of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer occurs almost as frequently as leukemia and claims more lives than melanoma or cervical cancer. Oral cancer's incidence is rising among women, young people and non-smokers.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can appear as a lesion or tumor anywhere in the mouth.
In the early stages, there are often no signs or symptoms, but smokers and heavy drinkers should have regular checkups with the dentist, as they may identify early signs.
Signs of Mouth Cancer
- patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue, usually red or red and white in color
- mouth ulcers or sores that do not heal
- swelling that persists for over 3 weeks
- a lump or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth
- pain when swallowing
- loose teeth with no apparent reason
- poorly fitting dentures
- jaw pain or stiffness
- sore throat
- a sensation that something is stuck in the throat
- painful tongue
- hoarse voice
- pain in the neck or ear that does not go away
Having any of these symptoms does not mean that a person has mouth cancer, but it is worth checking with a doctor.
Treatment of Mouth Cancer
Treatment for mouth cancer depends on your cancer's location and stage, as well as your overall health and personal preferences. You may have just one type of treatment, or you may undergo a combination of cancer treatments. Treatment options include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Discuss your options with your doctor.
Surgery of Oral Cancer
Surgery for mouth cancer may include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor. Your surgeon may cut away the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue that surrounds it to ensure all of the cancer cells have been removed. Smaller cancers may be removed through minor surgery. Larger tumors may require more-extensive procedures. For instance, removing a larger tumor may involve removing a section of your jawbone or a portion of your tongue.
- Surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the neck. If cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes in your neck or if there's a high risk that this has happened based on the size of your cancer, your surgeon may recommend a procedure to remove cancerous lymph nodes and related tissue in your neck (neck dissection). Neck dissection removes any cancer cells that may have spread to your lymph nodes.
Neck dissection surgery will leave a scar on your neck. It won't affect your body's ability to fight infections in the future.
- Surgery to reconstruct the mouth. After an operation to remove your cancer, your surgeon may recommend reconstructive surgery to rebuild your mouth to help you regain the ability to talk and eat. Your surgeon may transplant grafts of skin, muscle or bone from other parts of your body to reconstruct your mouth. Dental implants may be used to replace your natural teeth. Implants may be placed at the time of your cancer treatment or after you've healed.
Surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection. Surgery for mouth cancer often affects your appearance, as well as your ability to speak, eat and swallow.
You may need a tube to help you eat, drink and take medicine. For short-term use, the tube may be inserted through your nose and into your stomach. Longer term, a tube may be inserted through your skin and into your stomach.
You may also require a procedure to insert a breathing tube through your neck (tracheostomy). This breathing tube is usually temporary.
Your doctor may refer you to specialists who can help you cope with these changes. Most people are able to speak, eat, swallow and breathe normally following treatment.
Oral Cancer Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is most often delivered from a machine outside of your body (external beam radiation), though it can also come from radioactive seeds and wires placed near your cancer (brachytherapy).
Radiation therapy may be the only treatment you receive if you have an early-stage mouth cancer. Radiation therapy can also be used after surgery. In other cases, radiation therapy may be combined with chemotherapy. This combination increases the effectiveness of radiation therapy, but it also increases the side effects you may experience. In cases of advanced mouth cancer, radiation therapy may help relieve signs and symptoms caused by the cancer, such as pain.
The side effects of radiation therapy to your mouth may include dry mouth, tooth decay, damage to your jaw bone, mouth sores, bleeding gums, jaw stiffness, fatigue and red, burn-like skin reactions.
Your doctor will recommend that you visit a dentist before beginning radiation therapy to be sure your teeth are as healthy as possible. Any unhealthy teeth may need treatment or removal. A dentist can also help you understand how best to care for your teeth during and after radiation therapy to reduce your risk of complications.
Oral Cancer Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be given alone, in combination with other chemotherapy drugs or in combination with other cancer treatments. Chemotherapy may increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy, so the two are often combined.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on which drugs you receive. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting and hair loss. Ask your doctor which side effects are likely for the chemotherapy drugs you'll receive.
Cancers are a bit different to each other's but the fears and worries patients have is similar. The best option to reduce stress and focus on proper treatment of cancer is to know more about it.
Find below cancer guides so that you are made aware of important aspects of it.