Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer Symptoms

Oral cancer is a disease when cancerous cells attack tissues that make up the mouth and tongue. The disease can manifest into many different types of cancer yet the most common version is carcinoma. The cancer affects the mouth, lips, roof and bottom of the mouth, gums and cheeks. It is a condition that spreads rapidly. Oral cancer can also be transferred from a nasal or sinus cancer. The disease is wide spread and affects 34,000 patients yearly with a whopping 8,000 deaths annually.

Oral cancer is a slowly developing disease; therefore, it is important to be vigilant of warning signs announcing the infection. Some symptoms include:

  • A bump, lesion or an ulcer (that may seem like a canker sore) which does not heal after one week. It is often small and pale, dark or discolored. It can occur anywhere in the oral cavity and most usually on the tongue or lips. The lesion may also present itself as a white or red patch on the tissues in the mouth. It is important for patients to keep an eye on the sore, as it may feel painless in the beginning but is much more serious than meets the eye.
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Strange taste in the mouth
  • Bleeding in the mouth from erupted sores
  • Soreness in the throat and change in voice
  • Change in jaw structure
  • Numbness in the oral area
  • Difficulty while chewing

These symptoms often overlap with other oral illnesses. Examination by a doctor is critical in preventing a much more pervasive stage of cancer.

Oral Cancer Treatment

Oral cancer is treated much like other cancers in that the affected area is surgically removed and usually by an oncologist. After performing a biopsy of the specific region, a doctor is able to determine the stage of the cancer which is important in the treatment protocol. Some patients may only require the removal of tissue. If a patient is in an advanced stage, he or she may have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy to eliminate cancer cells especially once the disease has spread to the lymph nodes. Radiation is a therapy that directly destroys cancer cells in the targeted area thereby eliminating the part of cell that replicates in the DNA. Chemotherapy, however, treats a widespread and multiple areas of cancer unlike the localized treatment approach of radiation. Chemotherapy is a chemical method and the patient takes a medication that spreads throughout the body inhibiting the replication of DNA in the cells.

After treatment via surgery, radiation and chemotherapy patients are still at a risk for a reoccurrence. Frequent examinations and tests are important to complete. Radiation can produce side effects such as dry mouth or problems swallowing, many symptoms that seem much like the original oral cancer. An oncologist will be able to distinguish between oral cancer symptoms and post-surgical side effects.

The teeth are also taken into consideration as a surgical procedure may affect the structure of the mouth. This also influences speech and swallowing in which case a patient will be able to benefit from a host of different physical therapies for swallowing, chewing and speech movements. Also, because the surgery affects the physical appearance of a patient, doctors are concerned with reconstruction so that patients do not feel self conscious after their surgery.

Nutrition therapy is also employed since cancer patients are proven to have a smaller chance of recovery if they suffer from malnutrition and weight loss. Patients are advised to eat certain nutrients that aid in the repair of tissues that are damaged. Certain anti-oxidants are known to even fight cancerous cells. Because cancer feeds on sugar, patients are advised to avoid it, as well as fat, salt and alcohol. Because of the dry mouth side effect, patients are also told how to properly lubricate their food without going against their diets.

Oral Cancer Screening

An oral cancer screening is critical in warding off the illness before it becomes severe. Heavy alcohol drinkers and tobacco smokers are at a high risk for oral cancer. The screening is done by a dentist or doctor. He or she will be focused mostly on the roof and floor of the mouth and front and sides of the tongue, however, a general examination of the neck and head should also be performed.

A routine test is called the toluidine blue stain test. Ulcers in the mouth are covered with a blue dye. The areas that are a darker color blue indicate that they are more likely to become cancer.

Fluorescence staining is performed using a fluorescent light after the patient has swallowed a fluorescent mouth wash. Again, areas that are different in color indicate abnormal tissue.

Exfoliative cytology is when a brush or stick is used to collect cells from the lip or oral cavity to examine under a microscope. A doctor will be able to determine normal conditions.

A brush biopsy is used when a doctor would like to remove cells directly from a lesion. A small brush is used to collect cells for microscope examination.

A surgical biopsy is when a doctor will cut a piece of the oral cavity to determine whether the cells are cancerous.

Oral Cancer Causes

There is no one particular cause of oral cancer. However, there are many different risk factors:

  • HPV–The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can cause cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that when left untreated, will infect the host. This can in some cases then turn into cancerous cells in the mouth.
  • Tobacco – Tobacco use is linked as a condition in three quarters of oral cancer victims. The mucous membranes are affected by the heat and smoke of the tobacco product. Tobacco contains numerous carcinogens and when used, the probability of creating cancer is high.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol use has been proven to accelerate oral cancer when used in conjunction with tobacco products. Being a drinker alone does increase the risk for oral cancer but is not as powerful as alcohol and tobacco use together.
  • Some other causes include ultraviolet radiation, immune system deficiency, age (risk is higher for older age), poor nutrition and carcinogenic exposure other than tobacco.

Oral Cancer + Smoking

sers of tobacco products are six times more likely to develop cancer than non-smokers. Smokeless tobacco users are fifty times more likely. 90% of oral cancer patients are smokers which makes tobacco a serious threat to oral health.

Smoking tobacco is by far the highest risk behavior that is a cause of oral cancer. Tobacco affects the tissues in the mouth and makes a person more susceptible to infections like cancer. Smokers create the ability for the cancer to spread into the lymph nodes which is the most dangerous stage of cancer. From the lymph nodes, the cancer can spread to the entire body.