About the disease
Oral cancer develops in the form of a sore or an abnormal formation in the mouth. It can grow in any place in the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, tongue, gums and throat. The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which means that it beings to originate in squamous cells, commonly known as skin cells.
According to the American Cancer Society, this type of cancer is twice as common in men as it is in women and usually develops after the age of 50. In 2014 there were 40,000 cases of oral cancer in the USA alone. This type of cancer is believed to be mostly caused by smoking tobacco and consuming alcohol. People with a family history of oral cancer are also in the at risk group. HPV infection is also a contributing factor.
Oral cancer symptoms include:
- Swelling in any part of the mouth
- Lump that does not disappear after a considerable period of time
- Bleeding in the mouth
- Sores which do not heal
- Difficulty speaking, eating, swallowing
- Change in teeth appearance, including their falling out
- Weight loss
- Voice change
- Numbness or tenderness in the lower part of the face
It is important for people with oral cancer to be diagnosed as soon as possible, to prevent it spreading. This is one of the reasons why having a regular check up at the dentist is advisable. The 1-year survival rate for oral cancer is 81% and the 5-year survival rate is 56%.
During an oral examination, the dentist feels the patient's mouth, cheeks and gums to determine if there are any strange bumps. The dentist will also look for sores or any strange discharge.
An oral brush biopsy is also a commonly used diagnostic method. It can determine the presence of malignant cells in the patient's mouth tissue. It is usually painless and does not require anesthetic.
A scalpel biopsy is performed if the formation looks more dangerous. It is usually conducted under local anesthetic.
- Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are usually combined to destroy as many malignant cells as possible. Both can be administered before or after surgery. Radiotherapy uses radiation rays, which are projected onto the cancer to diminish it, while chemotherapy applies high-dose agents that kill cancerous cells.
- Tumor resection with lymphadenectomy includes the resection of the tumor with further removal of the lymph nodes, if cancer has spread to them. This type of surgery is recommended for progressed stages of oral cancer when it has metastasized.
Overall, oral cancer treatments usually have positive results and in most cases patients are able to preserve their voice and speaking function.