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Oral Cancers

oral cancer

Overview

Oral cancer is a cancer that develops
in the tissues of the mouth or throat. It belongs to a larger group of cancers
called head and neck cancers. Most develop in the squamous cells found in your
mouth, tongue, and lips. Oral cancers are most often discovered after they have
spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. Early detection is key to surviving oral
cancer.

Types of oral cancers

Did You Know?
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, more than 45,000 oral cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States every year.

Oral cancers include cancers of the:

  • lips
  • tongue
  • cheek
  • gums
  • floor of the mouth
  • hard and soft palate

Your dentist is often the first
healthcare provider to notice signs of oral cancer.

Risk factors for developing oral cancer

One of the biggest risk factors for
oral cancer is tobacco use. This includes smoking cigarettes, cigars, and
pipes, as well as chewing tobacco.

People who consume large amounts of
alcohol and tobacco are at an even greater risk, especially when both products
are used on a regular basis.

Other risk factors include:

  • HPV infection (a sexually transmitted
    virus)
  • chronic facial sun exposure
  • a previous diagnosis of oral cancer
  • a family history of oral or other types
    of cancer
  • being male

What are symptoms of oral cancer?

Symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • a sore on your lip or mouth that won’t
    heal
  • a mass or growth anywhere in your
    mouth
  • bleeding from the mouth
  • loose teeth
  • pain or difficulty with swallowing
  • trouble wearing dentures
  • lump in neck
  • earache that won’t go away
  • dramatic weight loss
  • lower lip, face, neck, or chin
    numbness
  • white, red and white, or red patches
    in mouth or lips

If you notice any of these symptoms,
especially if they don’t go away or you have more than one at a time, visit
your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

First, your doctor or dentist will perform
a physical exam. This includes closely examining the roof and floor of your
mouth, the back of your throat, tongue, and cheeks, and the lymph nodes in your
neck. If your doctor cannot determine why you’re having your symptoms, you may
be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

If your doctor finds any tumors,
growths, or suspicious lesions, they will perform a brush biopsy or a tissue
biopsy. A brush biopsy is a painless test that collects cells from
the tumor by brushing them onto a slide. A tissue biopsy involves
removing a piece of the tissue so it can be examined under a microscope for
cancerous cells.

In addition, your doctor may perform
one or more of the following tests:

  • X-rays to see if cancer cells have spread
    to the jaw, chest, or lungs
  • CT scan to reveal any tumors in your
    mouth, throat, neck, lungs, or elsewhere in your body
  • PET scan to determine if the cancer
    has traveled to lymph nodes or other organs
  • MRI scan to show a more accurate image
    of the head and neck, and determine the extent or stage of the cancer
  • endoscopy to examine the nasal
    passages, sinuses, inner throat, windpipe, and trachea

What are the stages of oral cancer?

There are four stages of oral cancer. Stages
1 and 2 usually involve a small tumor. In these stages, cancer cells have
not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stages 3 and 4 are considered advanced
stages of cancer. In these stages, tumors are large and the cancer cells have
usually spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

The survival rate after one year for
all stages of oral cancer is 81
percent. After five years, the survival rate
is 56
percent, and after 10 years it’s 41
percent. The earlier the stage at diagnosis,
the higher the chance of survival after treatment. This makes timely diagnosis
and treatment all the more important.

How is oral cancer treated?

Treatment for oral cancer will vary
depending on the type, location, and stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

Treatment for early stages usually
involves surgery to remove the tumor and cancerous lymph nodes. In addition,
other tissue around the mouth and neck may be taken out.

Radiation therapy is another
option. This involves a doctor aiming radiation beams at the tumor once or
twice a day, five days a week, for two to eight weeks. Treatment for advanced stages
will usually involve a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy is treatment with
drugs that kill cancer cells. The medicine is given to you either orally or
through an intravenous (IV) line. Most people get chemotherapy on an outpatient
basis, although some require hospitalization.

Targeted therapy is another form
of treatment. It can be effective in both early and advanced stages of cancer.
Targeted therapy drugs will bind to specific proteins on cancer cells and interfere
with their growth.

Nutrition is also an important
part of your oral cancer treatment. Many treatments make it difficult or
painful to eat and swallow, and poor appetite and weight loss are common. Make
sure you discuss your diet with your doctor. Getting the advice of a
nutritionist can help you plan a food menu that will be gentle on your mouth
and throat, and will provide your body with the calories, vitamins, and
minerals it needs.

Finally, keeping your mouth healthy
during cancer treatments is a crucial part of treatment. Make sure to keep your
mouth moist and your teeth and gums clean.

Recovering from oral cancer treatment

The recovery from each type of
treatment will vary. Post-surgery symptoms can include pain and swelling, but
removing small tumors usually has no associated long-term problems.

The removal of larger tumors could
possibly affect your ability to chew, swallow, or talk as well as you did
before the surgery. You might also need reconstructive surgery to rebuild the
bones and tissues in your face removed during surgery.

Radiation therapy can have a negative
effect on the body. Some of the side effects of radiation include:

  • sore throat or mouth
  • dry mouth and loss of salivary gland
    function
  • tooth decay
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sore or bleeding gums
  • skin and mouth infections
  • jaw stiffness and pain
  • problems wearing dentures
  • fatigue
  • change in your ability to taste and
    smell
  • changes in skin, including dryness and
    burning
  • weight loss
  • thyroid changes

Chemotherapy drugs can be toxic to
rapidly growing non-cancerous cells. This can cause side effects such as:

  • hair loss
  • painful mouth and gums
  • bleeding in the mouth
  • severe anemia
  • weakness
  • poor appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • mouth and lip sores
  • numbness in the hands and feet

Recovering from targeted therapies is
usually minimal. The side effects of this treatment can include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • allergic reaction
  • skin rashes

Reconstruction and rehabilitation after oral cancer treatment

People who are diagnosed with advanced
oral cancer will likely need reconstructive surgery and some
rehabilitation to assist with eating and speaking during recovery.

Reconstruction can involve dental
implants or grafts to repair the missing bones and tissues in the mouth or
face. Artificial palates are used to replace any missing tissue or teeth.

Rehabilitation is also necessary for
cases of advanced cancer. Speech therapy can be provided from the
time you get out of surgery until you reach the maximum level of improvement.

Outlook

The outlook for oral cancers depends
on the specific type and stage of cancer at diagnosis. It also depends on your
general health, your age, and your tolerance and response to treatment. Early
diagnosis is critical because treating stage 1 and stage 2 cancers may be less
involved and have a higher chance of successful treatment.

After treatment, your doctor will want
you to get frequent checkups to make sure that you are recovering. Your
checkups will usually consist of physical exams, blood tests, X-rays, and CT
scans. Make sure to follow up with your dentist or oncologist if you notice
anything out of the ordinary.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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