Everything You Need To Know About
Oral cancer is cancer that develops anywhere in the oral cavity. An estimated 53,000 people will present with oral cancer in the US this year. Almost half of them will be dead in 5 years. The five-year survival rate of oral cancer is 57%. Worldwide, there are 450,000 new cases every year. Oral cancer can go unnoticed in the beginning, making it hard to diagnose because of a lack of early symptoms. Treatment of oral cancer requires the effort of a multidisciplinary team. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss everything you need to know about oral cancer, its risk factors, cause, treatment, and preventive methods.
What are the risk factors of oral cancer?
As there is no apparent cause for oral cancer, someone should focus on the risk factors or causative factors related to the disease. Knowing them will help you prevent oral cancer. The following are some of the most well-known risk factors for oral cancer:
- Age, being older than 40 years old
- Weakened immune system
- Tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption
- Persistent viral infections such as with HPV16
- Family history of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- Sun exposure
- Lichen planus
- Bad oral health
- Unhealthy eating habits
- Genetic predispositions
What are the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?
Oral cancer may not bother you with any signs or symptoms in the beginning. It may present as a small physical change that is red or white, and painless. It could also resemble a common canker sore. However, injuries in the mouth that lead to benign tissue changes are usual. Persistence of these injuries for more than 14 days should make you visit your doctor or dentist. Oral cancer usually presents as a sore or a discoloration. Medical professionals know how to diagnose these tissue changes even in their early stages. Other common symptoms could be some of the following:
- A painless lump in the oral cavity, including the cheeks
- Pain or difficulties speaking
- Pain or difficulties chewing
- Persistent pain in one ear
- Numbness in the oral cavity
The most common areas that oral cancer presents are the front of the mouth, the tongue, and the anterior floor of the mouth. Other cancers occur in the salivary glands or on the lips. Rarely, the disease presents on the hard palate. The back of the mouth and the base of the tongue are the most common sites of oral cancer in young non-smokers.
What is the cause of oral cancer and how it develops?
Scientists don’t know the exact reason why oral cancer develops. Gene mutations are the ones responsible for most types of malignant tumors we know. These mutations are changes in our genome that happen spontaneously. Exposure to risk factors makes these changes more likely to occur and become activated, leading to cancer. Except for acquired changes in our DNA, inherited ones are also possible. Viruses, chemical exposure, and family history are the most well-established factors whose combination may lead to the development of cancer. Prevention of exposure to risk factors can decrease your chances of developing a malignancy.
Diagnosing oral cancer
The diagnostic procedure is distinguishable in establishing the occurrence of cancer and staging it. Physical examination and removal of some tissue for biopsy are the primary tests your doctor will perform to you. After that, your physician will try and find the extent of cancer, meaning whether it spread or not. To achieve that, you have to undergo an endoscopy and some imaging tests, like CT, PET-CT, MRI scans, and an x-ray. Finding your stage will determine your treatment options.
Treatment of oral cancer
Oral cancer is manageable once identified early. As stated previously, the treatment of oral tumors requires the effort of a multidisciplinary team. The standard therapy plan is oral chemotherapy with radiation, sometimes combined with surgical interventions. Chemotherapy is a medical treatment that kills the cancerous cells. In combination, doctors suggest radiation therapy to decrease the size of the tumor. After that, surgery can follow with the removal of the already weak and smaller cancerous tumor. Chemotherapy is not a monotherapy but an added therapeutic method to reinforce the treatment plan. Staging of the disease will determine which combination of methods is the most suitable one.
Scientists are working on biotherapies that require the knowledge of how the tumor grows during its early stages. These therapeutic techniques are highly promising but need time to develop fully into actual treatments. Targeted therapies are already adjuvant methods for other types of cancer.
How to prevent oral cancer?
To prevent oral cancer, you should abstain from all the risk factors. Therefore, you must drink less and quit smoking. Also, you should adopt a healthy lifestyle with lots of vegetables and physical exercise. Make sure you have good oral health and visit your dentist regularly. Finally, protect yourself from extreme sun exposure, especially during the summer months. There are some risk factors that you cannot modify, such as age or genetic predisposition. However, boosting your immune system and living a healthy life will significantly decrease your chances of oral cancer.