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Mouth cancer develops in the mouth and throat due to abnormal cell growth (neoplasm) and in 90% of cases is the result of squamous cell carcinomas, which is an oral malignancy. If we want to say exactly where mouth cancer occurs, we mean lips, gums and alveolar ridge, floor of the mouth, oral mucosa, and oropharynx (including soft palate, back of the tongue and pharyngeal wall).
Tobacco use and alcohol consumption are the primary risk factors that cause mouth cancer. There are also other causes, signs and symptoms to detect mouth cancer and the treatment options that we will talk about.
Who is more likely to be at risk of mouth cancer?
- It happens twice as high in men than women
- Adults over the age of 40
- Heavy smokers and drinkers (when alcohol and tobacco are both used by the person, risk of mouth cancer is as high as 100 times in these people )
- People in exposure of too much sunlight
What are the symptoms of mouth cancer?
- Having patches of white color lesions that can’t be scarped (known as leukoplakia) and last more than 2 weeks
- Patches of red or white mouth ulcers or lesions that do inhibit in your mouth for longer times (2 weeks)
- Mouth ulcers especially those that are specifically located on the floor of the mouth, oral mucosa, the soft roof of the mouth
- Thickening feelings in the throat like something is stuck in your throat
- Changes in voice
- Your tongue and other parts of your mouth becomes numb
- Difficulties in moving your jaws and tongue, chewing and speaking
- Sore throat
- Pain in the mouth or constant pains in the ear
- Denture wearers feel uncomfortable and tightness of their dentures due to inflammations of the soft tissue or gums
What causes mouth cancer?
- Tobacco use: smoking is one of the most well-known causes of mouth cancer. The risks of head and neck cancer, which oral cancer is one example, is very high in people who smoke cigarette or have other tobacco habits like chewing betel (as in India) or areca nut.
- Alcohol use: when American Cancer society states that 70% of patients with mouth cancer have the habit of drinking alcohol, we should be aware of the risks of alcohol. The type of alcohol drink is not important but the daily dose is. If you drink more, like 4 drinks daily, you are increasing the mouth cancer risks at faster pace.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV infection associated with sexually transmitted viruses especially HPV type 16 is one of the causes of mouth cancer that can occur in younger adults below 40 years of age. Having multiple partners, oral sex practices are primary contributing factors for the development of this infection.
- Age factors: aging population are at higher risks of not just mouth cancer but other cancers due to physical changes and immune system weaknesses. But mouth cancer may affect any body and even found in younger people, which HPV infection can be one possible risk factor to consider.
- Sunlight exposure: ultraviolet radiation when you are exposed to too much sunlight, it increases the risks of lip cancer and then spreads to mouth, causing mouth cancer.
- Immune system medications: there are some immune system drugs that people use to treat their immune illnesses that can also increase the risks for mouth cancer.
How is the mouth cancer detected?
Through oral screening: your dentist or doctor checks for any signs of lesions and mouth ulcers and changes in color, texture, swellings and crusty parts in all parts of your mouth and oropharynx area, which can be helpful to diagnose the mouth cancer symptoms earlier and treat the disease in the initial stages. They can touch your lymph nodes in head and neck region to detect any sign of changes in size or mobility that can be related to mouth cancer disease as part of extraoral examinations.
Imaging: X-rays, CT images, MRI scanning and the latest imaging methods like PET are useful imaging ways to detect mouth cancer, which are used by dentist or doctors for any form of abnormalities in head and neck areas to get to a perfect diagnosis. Also, there is endoscopy method to take images of your throat and down in the oropharynx area of the mouth, which allow the doctors to have a clear picture of any signs of cancer-related lesions.
Biopsy: biopsy is surgically removing the part of lesion or ulcers in your mouth for more examinations. Biopsy can help doctors and dentist to detect any malignancy in the growth of cells and other changes that can show traces of mouth cancer.
What are the treatments of mouth cancer?
Depending on the stage of your mouth cancer, you will need various treatment options. For example, to treat patients in early stages of mouth cancer, doctors use surgery or radiation therapies. But for severe cases of mouth cancer in later stages, some treatment strategies are applied to get to the best result to treat your mouth cancer. These treatments include surgery and postoperative radiotherapy or combination of radiation therapies and chemotherapy.
What happens after my mouth cancer surgery or radiation therapy?
Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can all have some side effects on your body. Depending on the site of your mouth cancer, the treatment time and the stage of your mouth cancer, these side effects can be mild or serious and affect your daily life in every aspect.
When you undergo surgery to treat your mouth cancer, the soft tissues in your mouth that are affected by the cancer cells should be removed. These can include some part of your tongue, floor of the mouth, maybe from your jawbone and any other affected areas in your mouth.
Generally surgery is better because the side effects are not as serious as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. For surgery, you may need cosmetic and functional reconstruction of the disfigurement as result of your mouth cancer surgery. You may be in need of dental implants or dentures to restore your teeth and even cosmetic surgeries of lips or other parts of your lower face or even your neck.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy have serious side effects that need time and patience to recover or even years of regular checkups and visits. Hair loss is one common side effect that will happen after your radiation or chemotherapy. You are likely to experience changes in taste, dry mouth because of damages to salivary glands in your mouth, oral thrush and other fungal mouth diseases and painful inflammation and mouth ulcers (acute mucositis).
How to prevent mouth cancer?
There are some lifestyle changes that directly linked to higher qualities of life and better oral hygiene health. Following these tips can prevent the mouth cancer from happening.
- Have regular dental checkups
- Quit smoking and other tobacco products
- Quit drinking alcohol
- Avoid too much sun exposure or use sunscreen creams or other lotions to have a protective shield against UV sun radiations
Do routine oral hygiene practices