Oral Cancer Awareness Month : All You Need to Know
“You have cancer.” These are words no one ever wants to hear in their lifetime. But according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 132 new cases are registered each day in the U.S alone, out of which 1 death takes place every hour of each day. These stats not only show the increasing number of such cases, they also reflect the degree of unawareness people have of this type of cancer. This is the main reason behind oral cancer awareness month, to make more people aware about different aspects of this deadly disease.
Oral cancer is treatable if it’s diagnosed at the right time. That’s the reason why dentists prescribe their patients for oral cancer screening as a routine part of their dental checkup.
Here are important facts related to causes, diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer that will keep you aware about all the devastating effects of this deadly disease.
What is Oral Cancer?
These are the cancer cells that develops in the tissue of the mouth or throat and belong to a large group of cancers know as head or neck cancer. Most of these originate from squamous cells found in lips, tongue, and mouth. These are mostly discovered once they have spread to neck’s lymph node.
Causes of Oral Cancer
There are many avoidable human habits that increase the risk of developing oral cancer. Here are the main risk factors associated with the development of oral cancer.
- Usage of any kind of tobacco such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco.
- Large consumption of alcohol and tobacco on a regular basis.
- Human papillomavirus infection (HPV) – this is a sexually transmitted disease and may lead to cervical and orophyngeal cancer. The infected person is generally unware of this infection.
- Family history of cancer.
- Excessive exposure to sun also increases the risk of oral cancer. Using a lotion that has SPF or applying lip balm reduces the risk by blocking the harmful sun rays.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
A sore or ulcer in your mouth that doesn’t heal and pain that does not go away is one of the most common symptoms of mouth cancer. Apart from this, there are many other symptoms that indicate the emergence of these cancer cells inside your mouth.
- Swelling, rough spots or eroded areas, lumps on lips, gums or any other area inside the mouth
- Unexplained numbness and pain in any part of the neck, mouth or face
- Speech problems or change in voice
- Pain while chewing, swallowing or speaking
- Discomfort, soreness and uneasy feeling in the back of the throat
- Development of unexplained different colored patches in the mouth
- Change in your teeth structure
- Constant ear pain
- Dramatic weight loss
- Unusual bleeding in the mouth
You may experience one or more of these symptoms if you have oral cancer. Therefore, if you notice any of them, contact your dentist or any professional health care expert for a checkup.
Diagnosis of This Disease
The diagnosis of oral cancer begins with routine dental checkup. If your doctor notices any of the symptoms mentioned above, your doctor will perform an oral cancer screening test. This includes close examination of the palate, ankyloglossia, uvula, tongue, cheeks, and the lymph node of your neck. After all this, if nothing is determined then you will be referred to an ENT specialist.
If your doctor finds something suspicious like a lesion, an unexplained mass growth or a tumor, then they might perform tissue biopsy or brush biopsy. These tests involve collecting cells and tissues in order to examine the cancerous cells.
Apart from these tests, there are other types of examination that your doctor may perform to get a more detailed image of the reason behind these problems. These tests include:
- X-rays to check to what extent the cancer cells may have spread.
- CT scan to see if there is any tumor forming in your neck, lung, throat, mouth or anywhere else in your body.
- PET scan to determine if the cancer has reached lymph nodes or other organs.
- MRI scan to get a more accurate image of the head and neck and check the stage of cancer.
- Endoscopy to examine the trachea, windpipe, inner throat, sinuses and the nasal passage.
How to treat oral cancer depends upon the stage, location and type of cancer diagnosed. Here are different types of procedures mentioned that are used to cure oral cancer.
This procedure is common for the treatment of oral cancer in early stages. Through surgery, tumors and other tissues around the mouth, neck and lymph nodes are removed. Surgery is usually paired with radiation treatment to make sure that cancer cells are completely gone.
Radiation therapy is generally for those patients who have small tumors or those who are unable to undergo surgery for any specific reason. High energy radiation beams are used to kill the cancer cells. This therapy is also used post surgery to make sure that the remaining cancer cells are destroyed. Mainly, two types of radiation therapy are used for treating oral cancer.
- External radiation
- Internal radiation (also know as Brachytherapy)
In this therapy, drugs are used to kill the deadly cancer cells. These drugs are injected intravenously so that they can properly reach the cancer sites through bloodstreams. Chemotherapy is often used with radiation therapy at advanced stages.
This therapy is used in both early and advanced stages of oral cancer. A drug named cetuximab is given intravenously to bind the cancer cell’s growth and spreading of the cells. Sometimes, it’s also combined with radiation and chemotherapy.
Paying regular attention towards proper oral hygiene is the first step toward protection from oral cancer. Therefore, routine dental checkups and annual oral cancer screenings should be your top priority because this will help you recognize any symptoms early on which is the best way to prevent and treat oral cancer.
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