Oral Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Oral cancer or otherwise known as mouth cancer typically develops in any of the parts of the mouth, including gums, lips, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, and roof and floor of the mouth. According to studies and surveys, men are more likely to develop oral cancer than women. It’s also rare for individuals under the age of 40 years to develop this disease, unless exposed to its risk factors.

Symptoms of oral cancer

Most signs and symptoms of oral cancer, especially the earliest ones can be confused with other benign issues such as toothache or cavity. However, if these symptoms come handy with the below mentioned ones, it’s time to get scanned for oral cancer.

  • Swelling, bumps, crusts, or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or in the inner lining of the mouth
  • Unexpected bleeding
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Presence of smooth red, white, and/or dotted patches in the mouth
  • Numbness in the neck, face, or mouth
  • Feeling as if something is stuck at the back of the throat
  • Dry throat or a prolonged sore throat
  • Change in voice
  • Pain in the ear
  • Trouble eating food

Causes of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer develops when cells present in inside the mouth begin to mutate i.e. their DNA changes. Such mutation makes the cells malignant or disastrous in nature causing uncontrollable growth and division without any of them dying. The accumulation of abnormal cancer cells in the mouth form a tumor, which with time, especially if not treated/removed at the earliest, can spread to other adjoining parts and cause great damage.

Oral cancer typically develops in the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) that form the lip lining and the inside of the mouth.

While it’s still not clear as to what causes the cells to mutate and turn malignant in nature, but physicians and oncologists have identified several factors that can increase a person’s chances of suffering from oral cancer.

Risk factors associated with Oral Cancer

Below mentioned are some common factors that increase a person’s chances of suffering from oral cancer.

  • Consumption of tobacco in the form of smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, among others
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol
  • Excessive sun exposure to lips
  • A sexually transmitted virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • A weak immune system

Preventing Oral Cancer

While there’s no proven method to prevent mouth cancer, there are means to reduce the risk of developing one.

  • Stop using tobacco: Tobacco is one of the leading causes of oral cancer. If a person uses tobacco for a prolonged period, be it in the form of smoking cigarette or a chewable substance, he/she is exposed to a higher risk of oral cancer. Stopping the use can, however, reduce one’s chances of suffering from the disease.
  • Monitor Alcohol Consumption: Excessive consumption of alcohol can irritate mouth cells, making them vulnerable to oral cancer. Therefore, it is highly advised to consume alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is also responsible for causing many other serious issues such as liver cancer, etc.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet: Opt for a diet that contains more of fruits and green-leafy vegetables. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables significantly help in reducing one’s risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure to your lips: It has been found that lips, if excessively exposed to the sun, can cause cancer to develop in there. So, protein them is a must. Wear a broad-brimmed hat that protects lips from direct sun rays or avoid staying under the sun for prolonged hours.
  • Visit a Dentist on Regular Basis: Dental health is very important. Paying a visit to a dentist once in a while is a good way of preventing fatal problems like oral cancer from developing and turning into a life-threatening disease.

Treatment options for oral cancer

Several treatment options are available to treat oral cancer. However, the kind of treatment a person may be given depends upon a number of factors, including the type and location of the cancer, its stage, and the overall health of the person. Also, the earlier the cancer gets detected, the more are one’s chances of getting fully cured. Cancer detected at a later stage comes with its own set of implications and complications.

Physicians and oncologists typically recommend three types of treatments to treat oral cancer.

  1. Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy makes use of high-vitality beams which are directly aimed to kill cancerous tissue. The goal is to destroy the cancer cells and prevent them from growing any further.

Two types of radiotherapy are typically used for treating oral cancer. These are as follows:

  • External beam radiotherapy is a therapy that’s directed to the affected area. This is usually the most preferred form or radiotherapy technique used for treating most oral cancer cases.
  • Internal radiotherapy, or otherwise known as brachytherapy, involves injecting little radioactive wires or beads around the cancer affected area for a specific period of time and then removing them from the body. This is a lesser used method as it comes with its own set of implications and complications.
  1. Surgery: This is the second most commonly used methods to treat cancer. With the help of surgery, cancer is removed from its site of origin, eliminating the chances of it spreading to other parts of the body.

In advanced stage cases, surgery may be done to help ease out the symptoms. Such a practice is known as palliative surgery.

  1. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is used in also 95% of cancer cases, including oral cancer. Here, specialized drugs are injected in the body, either in the form of pills or through an intravenous procedure, which kill cancerous cells and help prevent them from multiplying further. Chemotherapy is often used in conjunction with radiotherapy and surgery, but in some cases it may also be used as the sole treatment means.
  2. Photodynamic therapy: This is a lesser used treatment method for curing cancer. Photodynamic therapy makes use of carefully formulated photosensitizing drugs along with light to destroy cancer cells. The drugs are typically absorbed by the malignant cells and then activated by light, which kills them eventually. This type of therapy is best used in cases where cancers are small, localized, and near the surface of the skin.
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