Oral Cancer mostly affects people above the age of 40 years but Dr. Sowrabh Kumar Arora, Principal Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Vaishali, says, we have now come across several patients of younger age group also. Oral cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that can develop anywhere in the mouth. Oral cancer includes cancer of the tongue, gums, and lips, floor of the mouth, cheek and palate. If not detected and treated well in time, it can be fatal. The risk of oral cancer is higher in men than in women.
Common Oral Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of oral cancer are much like other health complications and may confuse the patient. It is important to consult a cancer specialist rather than self-diagnosing the condition and relying on OTC medications for a longer duration. Common oral cancer symptoms include:
- Persistent ulcer for more than 3 weeks in oral cavity
- A red or white patch in the oral cavity
- A lump in the mouth
- A feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
- Change in voice
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Swelling in the neck, not resolved with conservative treatment
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
- Smoking – Cigar, pipe and cigarette smokers are also six times more likely to develop any of the oral cancers than those who do not smoke at all.
- Chewing Tobacco –People who have a habit of chewing tobacco and those who use snuff and dip are 50 times more likely to develop cancer of the gums, cheeks and lining of the lips.
- Alcohol Abuse –People who consume excessive alcohol are six times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-drinkers.
- Family History –It also plays a role in increasing the chances of someone developing not only oral cancer but any other as well.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that independently acts as a risk factor for oral cancer, mainly tonsils and posterior part of the tongue.
How is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?
The diagnosis or oral cancer is carried out through a biopsy – a small sample is extracted to check for cancer. Upon the diagnosis of cancer, endoscopy and imaging tests like MRI, CT scans and X-ray are performed to devise the right treatment plan and to help predict prognosis.
Treatment Options for Oral Cancer
Like any other cancer, oral cancer when diagnosed at an early stage is highly treatable. However, the treatment type depends on the stage and location in which it is diagnosed. The patient’s general health is also kept in mind before devising the treatment chart. In many cases, for maximum result, a combination of treatments is required.
Surgery – Surgery involves the surgical removal of tumours and a small margin of healthy tissue around it. Small tumours can be easily removed through a minor surgery; however, big tumours require a major surgery that may even involve removing some part of the jaw bone or the tongue.
Newer technologies like LASER and Robotic surgery are also helpful to deal with these tumours.
The ablative surgery may be combined with reconstructive surgery to improve speech and swallowing.
Radiation Therapy –This treatment typically involves the use of high-energy radiation particles and X-rays that are targeted directly on the affected area from outside the body. Oral cancers can be treated with brachytherapy –radioactive seeds are placed inside the body to fight cancer cells.
Chemotherapy – One of the most widely known treatment options for cancer, chemotherapy involves either a single or a combination of powerful medicines that help in killing cancer cells throughout the body. In oral cavity cancer treatment, chemotherapy is usually combined with surgery or radiotherapy.
Targeted Drug Therapy –This therapy targets cancer cells with the use of monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies, on a molecular level, interfere with the cell growth. Targeted drug therapy may be combined with other treatment options as a part of the treatment plan devised for the patient.
How to Prevent Oral Cancer?
There are many ways in which one can reduce the risk of developing it. These prevention techniques include –
- Quitting smoking
- Stop chewing tobacco
- Limiting alcohol intake or completely staying away from it
- Choosing a diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants
- Avoiding prolonged sun exposure to the lips
- Periodically visiting the dentist or ENT
We at Max Healthcare advise everyone to make an appointment with the doctor if they feel any abnormality and see any signs and symptoms that last for more than two to three weeks. The doctor will perform the required tests to understand and evaluate the root cause of the symptoms. Remember, the timely diagnosis has saved lives of many across the world; thus, planning a visit to the doctor should never be delayed.