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Oral Cancer - Facts, Diagnosis & Treatment

Oral cancer develops in the mouth  and throat, interfering with the normal functioning of breathing, listening, chewing, swallowing, or talking. It’s one of the deadliest diseases that appears as a growth or sore inside the mouth and does not go away. Overall, the survival rate is much higher with all stages of oral cavity and pharynx cancers. When found early, treatment of oral cancer is likely to give positive results in patients.

Important Facts about Oral Cancer

  • Men are affected about twice as often as women with oral, head and neck cancer and about 60% of the time it will be found at a later stage
  • Tobacco in any form and alcohol are the largest risk factors for oral cancer. Most of the oral diseases and risk of cancer could be prevented if people refrained from tobacco or alcohol
  • Initially, the first signs of oral cancer start on the lips, tongue, or the floor of the mouth. If spread hastily, it can affect and be found inside cheeks, gums, or on the roof of the patient’s mouth
  • Avoiding direct exposure to sunlight lowers the risk of lip cancer. Use lip protection with a sun protection factor (SPF) and reapply it frequently. Stay inside or walk in the shade in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are highly damaging
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is mainly responsible for the rise in the oropharynx (tonsils cancer) in younger non-smokers population especially and is related to oral sex. It’s an STI condition where the risk of HPV cancer increases when having more than oral sex partners.
  • Any discomfort, abnormal swelling, soreness, lump, white or red patches on gums or tongue indicates the need to consult your dentist or ENT specialist. Also, annual oral screenings can prevent the risk of many oral diseases or cancer. 

Symptoms

The most common symptom of oral cancer is an unhealed soreness in the mouth. Other signs that shouldn’t be ignored are;

  • A lump in the mouth, throat or the lip
  • Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth
  • A sore throat that doesn’t go with the treatment
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
  • White or red patch on gums, throat, tongue and lining of the mouth
  • Pain in the jaw and ear
  • Hoarseness or change in the voice

Diagnosis of Oral Cancer

If cancer is suspected, the doctor may use mirrors and a lighted tube to perform the examination. However, not all tests are meant for every person, depending on the symptoms, age, type of cancer suspected and results of previous medical tests,  the doctor may suggest or consider particular diagnostic tests which include:

  • Dental examination
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • Oral Brush Biopsy
  • HPV testing
  • MRI
  • X-ray
  • Barium Swallow
  • CT Scan
  • Panendoscopy
  • PET-CT scan
  • Ultrasound

Once done, a specialist will review the results and if cancer is found, the results will help determine the course of treatment for the doctor. 

Treatment

For oral cancer, surgery (removing cancer cells) is the first line of treatment, if diagnosed in the early stage. “We prefer to develop a proper treatment plan for the oral cancer patients considering the best way possible, that will not affect their overall quality of life, ENT surgeon of AMRI Hospitals”. Depending on where the cancer is located, and the severity of the condition, patient’s age and overall health, oral cancer is treated. Other treatment options may include radiation therapy (using high-dose X-rays to kill cancer cells), chemotherapy (high-dose anti-cancer medicines) used in certain situations for advanced stages, and targeted therapy, helping in reducing or eradicating the risk of cancer in people.