Mouth cancers are a common type of cancer of the head and neck region. Most of the cancers caused in the mouth are seen in people with tobacco habits in any form.
Oral cancer or mouth cancer is a common type of cancer that affects the oral cavity and its content. In most cases of oral cancer, the affected individuals have tobacco habits in different forms, such as tobacco chewing, snuff, cigarette smoking, and are known to use pipe cigars. Oral cancers are commonly seen in people above 60 years of age. However, it can also occur in people below 60 years.
Oral cancers are cancers of the mouth. It is a common type of head and neck cancer that affects the inner cheeks, outer part of the tongue (tip of the tongue), the floor of the mouth, the roof of the mouth (palatal region), and the oropharynx region (posterior part of the tongue), and lips. Oral cancer can typically affect any area of your mouth. It can look like a typical oral cavity lesion that is painful and can bleed. The difference between a typical harmless non-cancerous oral lesion and oral cancer is that the cancerous lesions do not usually go away. They spread to the mouth, head and neck, and other body regions. Approximately 65 % of the people with oral cancers are known to be alive for five years from diagnosis.
Oral cancers are a common type of head and neck cancer. A major known cause of oral cancers is tobacco. Tobacco habits can be in any form, such as cigarette smoking, cigar, pipe tobacco, tobacco chewing habits, and snuff. Tobacco products have the following,
Cancer-causing agents (carcinogens).
Addictive substances (nicotine).
Cigarette smoking is the most common way of using tobacco. It is done by smoking cigarettes by inhaling tobacco, nicotine, and other products. Cigarettes cause 12 different types of cancers, including oral cancer and lung cancer. About one in five people are known to die of cigarette smoking. The American Lung Association says that people with cigarette smoking habits make up about 90 percent of lung cancer cases. In addition, cigarettes have many cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) that can cause cancer in any region of the body.
Cigars and pipes attracted the youth generation in the 1990s. People thought that using cigars caused less harm to their health when compared to cigarettes as they did not inhale the tobacco. However, cigars and pipes can cause an equal risk of developing oral cavity cancers (mouth cancer).
Another non-smoking way of using tobacco products is using snuff and chewing tobacco. Here, the people keep tobacco or snuff, which could be in the form of a pouch or a small brick in between their cheek and gums. This way, nicotine is released; nicotine is an addictive agent. People using chewing tobacco or snuff expose themselves to higher risks of developing lips, cheek, or throat cancers. People who use snuff or powdered tobacco have white patches in the oral cavity, which is called leukoplakia. Leukoplakia can later turn into oral cancer.
Oral cancer signs and symptoms often resemble normal harmless patches of the oral cavity. Though it appears harmless, the difference between a normal oral patch and an oral cancerous symptom is that these lesions do not usually go away as time progresses. Some of the patches could be precancerous lesions. Some of the common symptoms and signs of oral cancer are as follows,
Leukoplakia is flat white patches that could appear on the surface of your inner cheeks, tongue, or throat.
Erythroplakia has slightly raised patches that appear red, and these patches could bleed.
Erythroleukoplakia is a patch that combines both leukoplakia and erythroplakia.
Persistent bad breath.
Crusty lesions occur in any region of the oral cavity.
White or red patches that are painful and could bleed.
Earaches without any apparent reason.
Pain or numbness in the facial region or neck region.
Weight loss without any effort.
Sores and lesions in your mouth that are painful and do not go away in a few days.
Dentists diagnose oral cancer lesions or precancerous lesions during regular checkups or while performing other dental procedures. Later, after making the final diagnosis, your dentist or a general physician will transfer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. Some of the common ways to diagnose oral cancer are,
Brush biopsy or scrape biopsy or exfoliative cytology where your doctor scrapes your lesion to collect samples to examine for cancer.
Incisional biopsy is a procedure where your dentist or physician removes a piece of tissue to examine for cancer.
Indirect laryngoscopy or pharyngoscopy where your doctor inserts a mirror attached to a long handle to view and examine the posterior part of your tongue or throat for cancer.
Direct laryngoscopy or pharyngoscopy where your doctor inserts a tube that is flexibly attached to a lens and light to view the parts of the throat to examine for cancer.
The treatments and management of oral cancer depend upon the type, severity, and extent of the spread of oral cancer. The primary treatments for oral cancer are oral surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
The significant surgeries that are done in the treatment of oral cancers are,
Primary tumor surgery, where the doctors remove your tumor by an incision in your neck, or cancer can be removed through your oral cavity.
Glossectomy, where partial or total tongue removal is done to treat cancer.
Mandibulectomy is where the mandibular jaw bone is removed to treat cancer.
Neck dissection is where your neck lymph nodes are removed to treat cancer.
Reconstruction after tumor removal.
Chemotherapy is when the doctor gives you anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells.
Radiation therapy, where high doses of radiation are directed to the site of a cancerous tumor to avoid recurrence.
If you have smoking or tobacco chewing habits, stop the habit immediately.
If you need help ceasing the habits, talk to your doctor regarding the cessation programs.
If you have alcohol habits, drink in moderation.
Have routine checkups with your dentists.
These are some of the common steps done to prevent the incidence of oral cancer.
Oral cancer, as said earlier, is a common type of cancer that involves the head and neck. One of the major causes of oral cancer is tobacco habit. Therefore, if you are a person with tobacco habits in any form, stop the practice slowly or reach out for help to cease the habits. Because, of course, prevention is always better than cure.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with tobacco-induced mouth cancer are as follows;
- A feeling of lump that grows inside your mouth or outer throat.
- A white or red patches on the inside of the mouth.
- A mouth or a lip sore does not heal for more than a few weeks.
- Burning mouth or pain in some areas of the mouth.
- Teeth mobility (loose teeth).
- Inability to swallow or pain and difficulty while swallowing food.
- Ear ache without any ear-related problems.
The Mouth Cancer Foundation claims that about 90 % of people with oral mouth cancers are known to have tobacco habits in any form.
Mouth cancer generally takes about five years to develop into a fully progressed fourth-staged cancer. Therefore, diagnosing and treating oral cancer in the early stages is very important.
A few common signs and symptoms of gum cancer are,
- Certain regions of the gums seem thicker than others.
- Painful cracks on the gums.
- White, red, or dark patches on the gums.
No, mouth cancer does not usually cause any pain during the early stages.
A person must seek immediate medical attention if a mouth sore does not heal within two weeks or when an ulcer of the mouth spreads to the adjacent areas.
Last reviewed at:
11 May 2022 - 5 min read
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