Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, & Diagnosis
Medikoe Health Expert
Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru Feb 9, 2017
What is Oral Cancer?
Cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and death worldwide. Cancer can occur in any part of the body and then spread to other organs and parts of the body. Oral cancer is the development of cancerous cells anywhere in the mouth. This cancer can affect the tongue, lips, throat and walls of the mouth. It appears as a sore or growth that does not go away and can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated.
Causes of Oral Cancer
Though the exact cause of mutation in the DNA that leads to cancer is not known, the following factors significantly increase the risk of developing oral cancer:
Consumption of tobacco in any form like chewing, or smoking cigarettes or pipes significantly increase the risk of oral cancer. According to some studies, 90% of people having oral cancer are smokers.
Heavy use of alcohol: People who consume alcohol in excessive amounts are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. People who consume alcohol and smoke are at the highest risk.
Unhealthy diet: Lack of fruits and vegetables and other poor eating habits also increase the risk of oral cancer.
Exposure to sun: The UV rays of the sun can cause cancer in the lips.
Low immunity: People with genetically low immunity can develop cancer more easily as compared to others. In such cases, high exposure to sun alone can cause cancer.
There has been a recent rise in oral cancer due to the transmission of HPV 16, a kind of virus that is transmitted sexually.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
If you regularly get a dental checkup done, the dentist will always check for signs of oral cancer or other such complications. However, it is advised to keep a watch on these symptoms and visit a doctor if any of these symptoms persist for more than a fortnight:
Pain in any part of your mouth like tongue, gums or throat.
Continuous bleeding in any part of your mouth.
Formation of lumps or thickening of any linings of your mouth.
Have difficulty in swallowing or the feeling of something stuck in your throat.
Pain in the movement of jaws or tongue or numbness in any part of the mouth.
Persistent hoarseness that just won’t go away.
Loose teeth without any apparent dental reasons.
If any of the above symptoms persist, do visit a doctor immediately. The earlier it gets diagnosed, the better it is.
Oral Cancer Diagnosis
Based on the symptoms, if the doctor suspects oral cancer, the following diagnostic tests are done:
Physical exam: the doctor will closely examine the mouth and the lips and check for abnormalities like the presence of white patches, sores, etc.
Biopsy: a biopsy involves the removal of a small part of the tissue from the suspected area. The removed sample of tissue is then sent to the laboratory for further analysis. Various lab tests reveal if cancerous or precancerous cells are present in the sample or not. A biopsy is used as a confirmation test for the diagnosis of oral cancer.
Endoscopy: the doctor will pass an endoscope (a long thin tube with a camera attached at one end) down the throat to check if cancer has spread to other areas or not. The endoscope allows the doctor to get detailed images of the desired area.
Imaging tests: besides, various imaging tests like X-ray imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, computerized tomography (CT) scans, etc. may be done to determine how far cancer has spread.
Once the diagnosis is done, the doctor will assign a stage to cancer, depending on how far it has spread. A stage I cancer indicates that the cancer is small and has not spread much while a stage IV cancer indicates that cancer has spread to distant organs of the body.
Oral Cancer Treatment
The treatment depends on various factors like the stage of cancer, age, and health of the individual, etc. Commonly adopted treatment methods include:
Surgery: Surgery may be done to remove the tumor, and to reconstruct the mouth following the tumor removal.
Radiation therapy: it uses high-energy waves like X-rays, etc. to kill the cancer cells in the body.
Chemotherapy: it uses drugs to kill the cancer cells in the body. These drugs can either be orally given or injected directly into the body.
Other treatment methods like targeted drug therapy or immunotherapy might also be given.
Quite often, multiple methods are used in combination to deliver an effective treatment for oral cancer.