Oral cancer occurs when cells in the mouth start to divide and grow abnormally. These can occur in any part of the mouth. Cancer that starts from the oropharynx (a part in the throat, behind the tongue) is called oropharyngeal cancer, which is also considered to be a form of oral cancer.
Needless to say, oral cancer is generally fatal if its diagnosis is late. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), 53,000 people in the U.S alone, are likely to have oral cancer in 2019, of whom, nearly 11,000 are predicted to succumb to it. “About 53,000 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer. An estimated 10,860 people will die of these cancers.”
Common parts of the mouth that get oral cancer, involve the oropharynx, the tongue, gums, and even the floor of the mouth, says the ACS. To suspect oral cancer, look for the following symptoms:
- A persisting bad breath
- A lump in the neck
- Drastic weight loss
- Persistent pain in a specific part of the mouth
- Choking sensation
- Difficulties in swallowing down food
- Difficulties in moving the tongue or the jaw
- Loose teeth
- Ear pain
- Visible infection on or inside the mouth
Even if you have one of the symptoms of oral cancer listed above, consult your dentist right away. This is because even a persistent bad breath could be indicative of serious underlying oral infection.
Diagnosis of oral cancer
Following are how you can get diagnosed for oral cancer:
An endoscope is a tool that is inserted into the body, to study and examine the internal parts of the body. A dentist may either insert the endoscope into the patient’s nose to study the neck and the head region or deep inside the mouth to thoroughly study the throat.
The process involves anesthetics to relieve the patient from any kind of pain during the process. This entire diagnosis process is called endoscopy.
This is just the next step following endoscopy. If the endoscope finds an area suspicious, a biopsy is carried out on that area. This process involves the removal of tissues from the area to examine them for certain diseases.
Fine needle biopsy is the most common type of biopsy, in which a fine needle is inserted into the cells, and pathological studies are done on those cells to diagnose certain diseases like cancer.
This involves the dentist finding any sort of signs of oral cancer and then investigating further into the matter. The dentist may check for lumps in the neck, and inspects other parts surrounding the mouth to check if the cancer has spread.
An X-Ray is a process in which X-Rays are passed through a body part, to get a structural visualization of the part of the body. When oral cancer is suspected, dentists would ask patients to undergo an X-Ray process, following which, abnormalities inside the mouth would be looked for.
USG or ultrasonography is more common and effective than X-Rays when it comes to diagnosing any type of cancer. Using ultrasound, pictures of the internal organs are created on a monitor. This helps in detecting any abnormalities in any part of the body, and also helps in finding out the magnitude of the same.
A CT scan uses X-Rays that pass through the body at different angles. Using the combined images, a CT scan helps in providing a detailed 3-D image of the inside of the body, to show any existing tumor, lumps or other abnormalities.
In this, a radioactive substance is injected into the body. Cancer cells tend to absorb most of this substance. Following this, a scanner is used to produce images of the inside of the body, to detect any abnormalities.
To understand clearly, an MRI works in the same way as X-Rays, except for the fact that it uses magnetic fields instead of X-Rays. These are highly effective in producing images of soft tissues and help in detecting the dimensions of the tumor.
These are the most common forms of diagnosis methods for oral cancer. Other methods include HPV testing, oral brush biopsy testing, barium swallow testing and more. To read more about the different types of diagnosis for oral cancer, you can log on to Cancer.Net.
Treatment for oral cancer
- At early stages,surgery is the most viable form of treatment for oral cancer. This involves the removal of cancerous tissues and lymph nodes. During this process, the surgeon may also take out some of the surrounding tissues in the mouth and neck as a preventive measure.
- Chemotherapyremains to be the most common form of cancer treatment, in which, drugs that kill the cancer cells are either given to the patient orally or via intravenous lines. Most patients undergo chemotherapy on an outpatient basis. Rarely does a patient have to be hospitalized for the purpose.
- In radiation therapy, a patient is treated with radiation beams aimed at the cancerous tumor. It is usually given to the patient 3-5 days a week, depending upon the stage of the cancer. For advanced stages, a patient is generally treated with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Targeted therapy is a treatment process in which drugs would target certain proteins in cancer cells. Since protein is the catalyst for growth, attacking the protein in these cancer cells helps in preventing the growth of the cancer cells.
Any form of cancer treatment is painful. Side effects include loss of appetite, weight loss, hair loss, physical fatigue and nausea among many others.
Oral cancer treatment has its additional side effects, such as a sore mouth and throat, oral bleeding, tooth decay, dry mouth, painful gums, and dry and sore lips.
Oral cancer is a deadly disease and most survivors have one thing in common: They were all diagnosed at an early stage. This is why you are always recommended to undergo regular dental check-ups, and to never ignore any symptom associated with oral cancer.