Oral cancer (mouth cancer) is the broad term for cancer that affects the inside of your mouth. Oral cancer can look like a common problem with your lips or in your mouth, like white patches or sores that bleed. The difference between a common problem and potential cancer is these changes don’t go away. Left untreated, oral cancer can spread throughout your mouth and throat to other areas of your head and neck.
Mouth cancer refers to cancer that develops in any of the parts that make up the mouth (oral cavity). Mouth cancer can occur on the:
● Inner lining of the cheeks
● Roof of the mouth
● Floor of the mouth (under the tongue)
● The area right behind your wisdom teeth.
Cancer that occurs on the inside of the mouth is sometimes called oral cancer or oral cavity cancer.
oral cavity cancer is one of several types of cancers grouped in a category called head and neck cancers. oral cavity cancer and other head and neck cancers are often treated similarly.
What causes oral cancer?
Oral cancer starts in the squamous cells in your oral cavity. Normal squamous cells become cancerous when their DNA changes and cells begin growing and multiplying. Over time, these cancerous cells can spread to other areas inside of your mouth and then to other areas of your head and neck or other areas of your body.
Factors that can increase your risk of mouth cancer include:
● Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, among others is the most common cause
● Heavy alcohol use
● Excessive sun exposure to your lips
● A sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)
Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer may include:
● A lip or mouth ulcer that doesn't heal
● A white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth
● Loose teeth
● A growth or lump inside your mouth
● Mouth pain
● Ear pain
● Difficult or painful swallowing
Oral cancer has several signs and symptoms that may be mistaken for common problems or changes in your mouth. For example, you may notice patches inside of your mouth that you can’t scrape away. These patches may be precancerous conditions.
Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that bother you and last more than two weeks. Your doctor will likely investigate other common causes for your signs and symptoms, such as an infection.
There's no proven way to prevent mouth cancer. However, you can reduce your risk of mouth cancer if you:
● Stop using tobacco or don't start. If you use tobacco, stop. If you don't use tobacco, don't start. Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals.
● Stop alcohol consumption
● See your dentist regularly. As part of a routine dental exam, ask your dentist to inspect your entire mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate mouth cancer or precancerous changes.
Oral cancer tests include:
● Physical examination: Your healthcare provider will look at the entire inside of your mouth and might feel around your mouth. They’ll also examine your head, face, and neck for potential signs of pre-cancer or cancer.
● Incisional biopsy: Your healthcare provider will remove small pieces of tissue to get cells to be examined for cancer.
● Direct laryngoscopy and pharyngoscopy: They may use an endoscope to look at areas of your throat and mouth that can’t be seen with mirrors. An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with an attached light and viewing lens.
What surgeries treat oral cancer?
The most common surgeries for oral cancer are:
● Primary tumor surgery: Healthcare providers remove tumors through your mouth or an incision in your neck.
● Glossectomy: This is the partial or total removal of your tongue.
● Mandibulectomy: This is surgery for oral cancer in your jawbone.
● Maxillectomy: This surgery removes part or all of the hard palate, which is the bony roof of your mouth.
● Neck dissection: This surgery is done to remove lymph nodes from your neck.
● Reconstruction: Surgery that removes large areas of tissue might be followed by reconstructive surgery to fill gaps left by the tumor or replace part of your lips, tongue, palate, or jaw. In some cases, reconstructive surgery is done by taking healthy bone and tissue from other areas of your body.
What are other ways to treat oral cancer?
Healthcare providers may combine surgery with other treatments, including:
● Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses strong beams of energy to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Your healthcare provider may combine radiation therapy with other treatments.
● Chemotherapy: Your healthcare provider may use anti-cancer drugs that kill cancer cells, including treatments that affect most parts of your body.
Oral cancer is a serious illness that can be treated successfully if diagnosed at early stage. That’s why you must try to see your dentist twice a year and make time to do a monthly self-examination. There are ways to prevent oral cancer, and one of the most important is to avoid using tobacco products. A cancer diagnosis can be scary. Know you don’t have to go it alone, though. Talk to your healthcare providers about resources to help you talk to your friends and family about your oral cancer.