Oral Cancer – what is it?

Oral cancer is a malignant condition that starts as a small alteration of the cell divison in the mouth or the lips. Oral cancer is fairly common in India. It can be cured if found and treated at an early stage (when it’s small and has not spread). A healthcare provider, oral surgeon or a cancer surgeon often finds oral cancer in its early stages because the mouth and lips are easy to examine.

The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. There are other, much less common types.

Are you at risk for Oral Cancer??

The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in your control at the same time few factors are totally under your control to avoid or reduce.

Oral cancer is twice as common in men as it is in women. Other factors that increase risk include

  • Past or current use of any form of tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Fair skin
  • Chronic mouth irritation, such as from dentures, wisdom teeth
  • Using betel quid or gutka chewing tobacco products
  • Weakened immune system

Can oral cancer be prevented?

There is no sure way to prevent all mouth and throat cancers. But you can control some risk factors to help reduce your risk: 

  • Quit using all types of tobacco
  • Stay away from other people’s tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke)
  • Limit or don’t drink alcohol
  • Protect yourself from ultraviolet light exposure
  • Prevent HPV infection
  • Have dentures fitted correctly
  • Take care of your mouth and teeth

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

Oral cancer is often found because a person notices changes in their mouth. The symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Ulcers in lip or in your mouth that won’t heal more than 3 weeks
  • A lump on your lip, in your mouth, or in your throat
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of your mouth
  • Numbness in your mouth or tongue
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing
  • Pain when you chew or swallow
  • Reduction in mouth opening
  • Loose or painful teeth
  • A lump, swelling, or mass in your neck that doesn’t go away
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • A change in your voice
  • Pain in your ear or jaw

Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it’s important to see your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

Oral cancer is often found during routine oral examinations, screening camps. Your healthcare provider may check for signs of oral cancer during your regular exams. You should tell your healthcare provider if you have any symptoms.

If your provider thinks you may have oral cancer, your healthcare provider may decide you need a biopsy to check for cancer.

A biopsy is the only way to confirm cancer. Small pieces of tissue are taken out and checked for cancer cells. Your results will come back in about 1 week.

After a diagnosis of oral cancer, you’ll need more tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about your overall health and the cancer. They’re used to find out the stage of the cancer. Once your cancer is staged, your provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Ask your provider to explain the details of your cancer to you in a way you can understand. 

How is oral cancer treated?

Your treatment choices depend on the type of oral cancer you have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to cure you, control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what the risks and side effects may be. Other things to think about are if the cancer can be removed with surgery, how your body will look and work after treatment, and your overall health.

Oral cancer may be treated with:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Palliative care
  • Supportive care

Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options. Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.

Coping with oral cancer

Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep talking with your oral cancer team about any problems or concerns you have. Work together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.

Here are tips:

  • Talk with your family or friends.
  • Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
  • Speak with a counselor.
  • Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or rabbi.
  • Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or anxiety.
  • Keep socially active.
  • Eat a healthy diet, with as many protein foods as possible.
  • Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
  • Keep physically active.
  • Rest as much as needed.
  • Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage treatment side effects.
  • Take your medicines as directed by your team.