Oral cancer refers to cancer of the oral cavity. Other names for oral cancer are mouth cancer, lip cancer, tongue cancer, cancer of the jaw and throat cancer. Cancer is an unusual and unsystematic cell growth in the tissues of an individual. Unfortunately, cancer cells can grow out of control because they can keep replicating themselves. Thus, the abnormal growth of cancer cells in the oral cavity can devastate the structures in the oral cavity.
Oral cancer is the one of the most common causes of death. In fact, oral cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer involving the head and neck areas. Most oral cancers involve the mucous membranes, which are the outermost epithelial layers of the mouth and throat.
Causes of oral cancer
Oral cancer is usually slow growing, and it might not be noticed right away. One of the most common causes of oral cancer is smoking and using smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and snuff. Other possible causes of oral cancer could be nutritional deficiencies, ill-fitting dentures which may cause constant irritation, viral infections, and excessive alcohol use.
Other possible causes of oral cancer are:
Exposure to Ultraviolet rays of the sun – Just as it is important to wear sunscreen when you are out in the sun, it is vital that you also apply sunscreen to your lips. The UV rays of the sun can cause lip cancer. Cancer of the lip may spread to the other structures in the mouth.
Exposure to the human papilloma virus 16 (HPV16) – This is the same virus that causes women to get cervical cancer. Oral sex may be the route in which the HPV16 virus gets into the mouth and throat to cause oral cancer.
Other causative factors may be related to age and state of health. Most people who develop oral cancer are over the age of 40. An individual who has an impaired immune system may be more at risk for oral cancer; therefore, it is vital that people at risk should refrain from putting themselves more at risk by using tobacco products.
Dietary factors, such as not eating enough fruits and vegetables may put individuals at risk for oral cancer. Why? Because your fruits and vegetables contain cancer fighting compounds called antioxidants.
Symptoms of oral cancer
Oral cancer also has no specific symptoms. Oral discomfort is the most common symptom of this disease. Though individuals may experience symptoms that could be attributed to other conditions such as:
Bleeding in the mouth and gums
Numbness in the mouth and/or tongue
Soreness in the mouth and/or tongue
Gum swelling – especially with ill-fitting dentures
Oral cancer can occur in any place in or about the mouth; the tongue, under the tongue and the back of the mouth may be the most affected, and the lips, gums and palates are often less affected.
Warning signs of oral cancer
There are some signs which indicate the possibility of oral cancer. These warning signs include:
There could be lesions, red or white patches, situated in mucous membrane. White patches may be noticed along the inside of the mouth next to the tongue. These lesions are most prevalent in people who dip snuff or chew tobacco. The white patches cannot be removed by rubbing the area.
Another warning sign of oral cancer can be a raised fibrous area noticed on the mucous membranes in the mouth. These fibrous lesions could be in line with the cheek and tongue, or anywhere in the mouth.
Burning in the mouth could be another warning sign. If you notice that eating causes your mouth to burn, this is reason to see your doctor. It could just be a minor infection, but it also could be something more sinister, like oral cancer.
Diagnostic evaluation for oral cancer
The doctor will do a detailed examination of the oral cavity. The doctor will look for areas that look and feel suspicious, such as hard or fibrous lumps in the oral tissues. The doctor should check the patient for any red, white or any mixed colored lesions inside the mouth. If oral cancer is suspected, the doctor may order diagnostic tests, such as a CT scan, MRI, and X-ray. Microscopic tests may also be done by taking samples of certain oral tissues for biopsy.
Treatment options for oral cancer
The treatment options for oral cancer will depend on the type of cancer cells are present, the changes seen in the cancer cells, and the size and location of the cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy are often used to treat oral cancer, but sometimes surgery is needed. Some people, with advanced mouth and throat cancer have to have part of the mouth and face or neck removed, which may be called a radical face or a radical neck. If surgery is performed, radiation and chemotherapy may also be given as part of the treatment. The survival rate of individuals depends on which stage the cancer is in. If in the first stages, the survival rate is about 70 percent.
The Oral Cancer Foundation predicts there will be approximately 36,000 people diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States this year (2010). It is estimated that 100 people are diagnosed each day with some type of oral cancer. The incidence of oral cancer is more prevalent in men; men are twice more likely to develop oral cancer than women. Ninety percent of people who develop oral cancer are those who use some sort of tobacco product. At least one person dies each day as a result of oral cancer.