Before talking about oral cancer let us see what cancer is? Cancer is undifferentiated and unrestricted growth of cells that damages the surrounding healthy cells. Now when these cells are restricted to oral region and affects the cells in the oral cavity then the cancer is termed as oral cancer. Various parts of the oral cavity affected by oral cancer are cheeks, lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, palate (hard and soft), gingival and pharynx.

Causes of oral cancer

Men are more prone to get cancer as compared to their female counterparts especially those who are above 50 years of age. Though the exact cause of getting oral cancer is still known but the thing that to be kept in mind is that oral cancer is not contagious i.e. it doesn’t spread from one person to another.

Here are the etiological factors that might lead to oral cancer:

Tobacco consumption: Consuming tobacco that can be in the form of cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff are the most common cause of oral cancer. Tobacco consumers have six times more chances of getting afflicted with oral cancer that their non tobacco consuming counterparts. It has been seen that out of four oral cancer patients three patients are chronic tobacco smokers.

Alcohol consumption: Though consuming small amounts of alcohol is good but consuming excess of alcohol can be damaging to the oral cavity as it erodes the protective skin layer thereby exposing the under parts of mouth and smoking after alcohol consumption add to the disastrous effects.

Sun exposure: It has been seen that people who are more exposed to sun light have greater chances of having oral cancer. Again smoking accelerates the condition.

Family history: If anyone in the family died of cancer or had cancer then there are chances that his/her offspring can get this disease.

Sharp tooth: If the tooth is rough or has sharp cusps then it can continuously bite against the soft oral tissues and might delay in the healing. So, it can be a contributing factor towards oral cancer.

Symptoms of oral cancer

Any abnormal findings like white or red patches, oral blisters, mouth ulcers that are not healing should be immediately reported to the dentist. Here are the warning symptoms that if untreated can lead to cancer.

Abnormal patches inside the mouth: Any sort of patches that may be red or white in color are initial indications towards something phishy going around in the mouth. White color patches have the tendency to turn malignant. So, if you see any of these things in your mouth immediately rush to your dentist.

Mouth ulcers: Though mouth ulcers can be due to disturbed bowel movements or vitamin deficiency but if they are not healing in time or coming again and again then it can be an indicative factor for mouth ulcers.

Persistent bleeding from the mouth along with lumps in neck region         

Pain and difficulty in swallowing things.

Diagnosing oral cancer

If the patient comes up to the dental office with above symptoms then at first his or her history is taken and after that the part is excised using local anesthesia and sent for biopsy.

Dentist will also take up the physical examination to look for any lumps in the head, neck or oral cavity region.

The various examinations conducted to look for the stages of cancer are:

  1. Dental X ray

  2. Chest X ray to look for any invasion

  3. CT scan

  4. Endoscopy is done to check the condition of throat

  5. MRI which is usually prescribed at later stages

Treatment of oral cancer

The treatment completely depends upon the stage at which oral cancer is? Depending upon this the treatment can be divided into three types: Surgery, Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy

Surgery: This is the most successful treatment of oral cancers. Here the complete affected area is excised and may involve sacrifice of some healthy tissue also. In most advanced surgeries like Radicular Neck Dissection (Commando Operation), lymph nodes and internal jugular vein is also removed.
Patient may notice intense swelling, pain and discomfort and dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)

Radiotherapy: It is done in cases where the cancer has not spread. It involves exposing cells to radiations thereby killing them. It is further of two types. External radiation involves giving radiation externally by machine and internal radiation is by placing implants. Internal radiation usually takes several days to time to show the results. There are many side effects involved with radiotherapy like,

  1. Xerostomia i.e. dry mouth

  2. Sore mouth and throat

  3. Tooth becomes prone to caries attack

  4. Trismus i.e. difficulty in opening the mouth

  5. Thyroid problems

  6. Altered taste and olfactory senses.

Chemotherapy: It involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It is a long treatment and requires lot of patience.  It can cause temporary hair loss and patient may experience nausea and vomiting during the treatment phase.

Preventing oral cancer

Prevention is better than cure so every care should be taken to prevent oral cancer. Here are some tips to do so.

  1. Avoid tobacco consumption in any form and also limit the consumption of alcohol.

  2. Take care of the diet and avoid any spicy foods.

  3. Go for a regular dental check up.

  4. In case of any abnormal findings like white or red spots, non healing ulcers, schedule a dental visit.

  5. Avoid excessive sun exposure.


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