Oral cancer is a subtype of head and neck cancer and can develop in any area of the oral cavity or oropharynx. Oral cancer most often begins in the tongue or floor of mouth. Almost all oral cancers are characterized by the appearance of flat cells (squamous cells) that covers the tongue, mouth and lips. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinoma.
When oral cancer develops, it spreads into the body through the lymphatic system. Cancer cells (squamous) that enter the lymphatic system are carried by lymph. Often cancer cells first appear near the lymph nodes located near the neck. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the throat, lungs or other parts of the body.
2. Who can develop oral cancer?
Doctors cannot provide scientific explanations regarding the predisposition of individuals to develop oral cancer. However, the disease is not contagious, so it is impossible to contact oral cancer from another person.
Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to manifest oral cancer. Some of these risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing oral cancer are:
- Tobacco – tobacco in any form (smoking, chewing, etc.) causes oral cancer. People who smoke for long periods of time and those who associate smoking with alcohol consumption are among the most exposed to the risk of oral cancer.
- Alcohol – the chances of developing cancer increases as the amount of alcohol increases or is associated with smoking.
- Sun – lip cancer can be caused by sun exposure.
- Personal medical history that includes neck and head cancer.
3. Early detection of oral cancer
During a routine checkup, the dentist or the family can check the entire oral cavity of a person looking for specific signs of oral cancer. Regular checks can detect oral cancer or conditions that may cause oral cancer since their early stages.
Common symptoms of oral cancer include
- Lesions or spots (of whitish color, red color or a mixture of white and red color) located inside the mouth or on the lips;
- White spots (leukoplakia) that become malignant – white and red mixed stains; these are more likely to become malignant than for white spots;
- Intense red stains; these are very smooth and often become malignant;
- Injury or inflammation located on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal;
- Bleeding from the mouth;
- Loss of teeth;
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing;
- Discomfort in wearing dentures;
- The presence of a lump in the neck;
Many of these symptoms are not specific for cancer. An infection of the oral cavity or other reasons may cause the same symptoms, so stay calm and go to a doctor.
If a person has symptoms that suggest the presence of oral cancer or family dentist will examine the mouth and throat to see if there are red or white stains, bumps, deposits, nodules, swelling or other problems.
The doctor will check the mouth floor, the palate, the gums, but also the tongue (including sides and bottom of it), the throat interior and cheeks. It will feel and lymph nodes of the neck. If the abnormal area is found, it will remove a small sample of tissue to study it in a specialized laboratory.
Harvesting tissue to detect whether or not it contain cancer cells is called ‘biopsy’. Biopsy can be done under local or total anesthesia. Biopsy is a reliable diagnostic method that can determine whether or not the abnormal area is cancerous.
If the biopsy confirms the presence of cancer, the next step will be detecting the cancer stage to recommend the best treatment plan. This can be set according to tumor size and grade of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. For this purpose it will be made different laboratory tests, while sometimes an endoscopy may be necessary.
If physician deems it necessary, it may be one or more imaging tests to determine the extent of the cancer:
- Mouth X-ray radiography – will show whether cancer has spread to the jaw or not;
- Chest X-ray radiography – will provide images of the chest and lungs and can confirm the cancer spreading to these areas;
- CT – with this type of investigation will provide detailed images of the body. It may be necessary including injecting a contrast agent. By using CT scanning the specialist will see the tumors that are located in the neck, oral cavity or elsewhere in the body.
- MRI – during this diagnostic procedure will be taken detailed pictures of the body; the doctor will examine the patient to determine if the oral cancer has spread.
7. How to prevent oral cancer
Any person can take an active role in preventing oral cancer or detecting it early. In the end everyone can examine the oral cavity at least once a month.
With a bright light in the mirror will examine the front of the lips and gums, palate (roof of the mouth), inside the mouth, cheek lining, the back of the throat, tongue, will palpate the lymph nodes located on both sides of the neck. Keep in mind that you must go to a dentist as soon as possible if you notice any changes in the appearance of the oral cavity or any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above.
Specialists recommend regular checkups to the dentist and oral exams for oral cancer. In addition to these, are recommended screenings every three years for people over 20 years and yearly for those over 40 years. Early detection of oral cancer may increase the success chances of the established treatment.
Limit sun exposure (and will use lotions with protection against ultraviolet rays), follow a balanced diet, avoid smoking and any alcoholic beverages will be used in moderation.