Oral cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the world and third most common type of cancer in India. Oral cancer contributes to 30% of all the cancer cases in India.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is when there is an abnormal growth of cancer cells in any part of the mouth. The cancer cells accumulate to form a tumour on the lips, on the roof of the mouth, on the floor of the mouth, Inner lining of the cheeks, on the gums or tongue. Oral cancer is more common in men than in women.
What are the risk factors of oral cancer?
Although the exact cause of oral cancer is not known, there are several risk factors which can lead to oral cancer:
- Tobacco use through cigarettes, cigars, pipe, and betel leaves or nuts etc.
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Lips exposed to the harmful UV rays of the sun
- Weak immune system
- Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV)
- A meat or fried food rich diet
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
There are various symptoms that can indicate oral cancer. However, these symptoms have to be examined by a doctor to rule out any other cause of the symptoms and cancer is diagnosed.
- Mouth sores or ulcers that do not heal
- Red or red and white patches on the inner lining of the cheeks or lips
- Loosing teeth without specific cause
- Painful or Sore throat
- Thickening of the lining or lump in the mouth
- Bleeding sores
- Painful tongue
- Stiffness or painful jaw
- Pain while swallowing
- Pain while chewing
There might be other symptoms depending on the part of the mouth the cancer has affected, the stage of cancer etc.
What are the treatment options for oral cancer?
The treatment for oral cancer depends on the location of the cancer, spread of cancer cells and the stage of cancer. There can also be a combination of treatments.
Surgery: The tumour is removed surgically from the mouth along with a small lining of healthy cells around it. If the cancer cells spread to neck or head, the affected area is removed through surgery. However sometimes surgery will include removal of a part of your mouth which may disable eating or talking, that is when reconstructive surgery is performed. In this surgery, tissues from other parts of the body are grafted on to the mouth.
The side effects of this procedure can be bleeding or infection in the mouth. It can interfere with the ability to speak or eat.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is where the carcinogenic cells are exposed to high energy X-rays to destroy the cells or impair their ability to reproduce. External radiation or radiation wires or seeds are used to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy is either used at the early stages of cancer or along with surgery or chemotherapy.
The side effects of radiation therapy may be mouth sores, fatigue, jaw stiffness, tooth decay, skin reactions like burns or bleeding gums.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is where certain chemical drugs are administered which destroys the cancer cell reproduction. It may be used along with radiation therapy.. Sometimes these drugs may also affect healthy cells.
The side effects may be nausea, vomiting, fatigue, risk of secondary infection, hair loss, weak immune system.
Targeted drug therapy: It is similar to chemotherapy where a certain protein or fuel that helps in cell reproduction is destroyed. Cetuximab or Erbitux is used in certain cases of head and neck cancers.
The side effects for this therapy may occur mildly. Nausea, breathlessness, diarrhoea or conjunctivitis are some of them.
What are the preventive measures of oral cancer?
As mouth cancers are closely associated with tobacco use, it must be avoided at all costs. It increases the risk of recurrence of cancer. It also interferes with the recovery of the patient from cancer. Moderate drinking or totally quitting is better to reduce the risk of oral cancer. Avoid exposure of lips to sun or use sunscreen. Avoid junk foods, processes or fatty foods. These measures may reduce the risk of occurrence of oral cancer significantly.