Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer is a health condition where a tumor occurs on the surface of the mouth, tongue, gums or lips. A tumor can also occur on the pharynx (this is the part of the the mouth that is connected to the windpipe) as well as the tonsils and salivary glands. The main symptoms of oral cancer are:
– a lump
– white or red patches on your tongue or lining of your mouth
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than 3 weeks, especially if you are a heavy smoker or drinker, please visit your general physician as soon as possible.
Types of Oral Cancer
Cancers typically form on the outside or inside layer of the body. A specific case of cancer is categorized depending on the part of the body and the type of cells where the cancer originates. For oral cancer, the most common variant is known as squamous cell carcinoma. This specific type of mouth cancer accounts for 9 out of 10 of cases of oral cancer in human beings. The cancer typically occurs in the mouth and sometimes under the skin.
There are also other types of oral cancer such as:
– adenocarcinomas: these are oral cancers that mostly occur in the salivary glands
– oral malignant melanoma: these are oral cancers that occur in specific cells called melanocytes. Melanocyte cells are responsible for giving the skin its natural color.
Causes of Mouth Cancer
Mouth or oral cancer is caused by abnormal growth of cells in the mouth and adjacent organs. Just like other cancers that occur in other parts of the body, mouth cancer is caused by cells having unusual life cycles that result in them growing and reproducing uncontrollably.
Some of the main factors that may predispose you to developing oral cancer include:
– HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infection. This is the same virus that causes Genital Warts
– Excessive consumption of alcohol. Typically, people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are more likely to suffer from mouth cancer.
– Smoking or consuming tobacco infused products. Products that contain any form of tobacco can easily increase your risk of developing mouth cancer.
Who Is Affected?
Anyone can suffer from oral cancer. However, this type of cancer is very rare and accounts for 1 in every 50 cancer cases reported. Cases of oral cancer are most common in adults aged between 50 and 80 years old. Oral cancer is still common is younger adults but most of these cases are attributed to HPV infections. This specific type of cancer is more common in men than women. This is mainly because men drink more alcohol than women.
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There are numerous treatments for oral cancer. There are however 3 main globally recognised treatments regimens:
– Radiotherapy: This is where powerful x-rays are employed to neutralize the cancerous cells and stop further growth.
– Chemotherapy: This is where special medication is used to eliminate cancer cells in the body.
– Surgery: This is where doctors use surgical methods to remove cancerous cells from affected parts of the body and surrounding tissues.
Some treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be combined for maximum efficiency. Also, these treatments may be used after surgery to prevent future occurrence of cancerous cells in affected areas.
Side Effects of Oral Cancer
Treatment of mouth cancer can result in various side effects such as impaired speech and difficulty in swallowing or dysphagia. The latter side effect (dysphagia) can be fatal if food particles get into the airways and go into the lungs thus causing adverse reactions such as pneumonia. Patients should therefore be monitored closely.
Anyone can reduce their risk of developing oral cancer by doing the following:
– regulating their alcohol consumption as recommended by health experts.
– avoiding smoking and tobacco products.
– sticking to a mediterranean diet that includes fish, olive oil, citrus fruits, tomatoes and plenty of fresh veggies. Healthy eating is a must.
– Regular oral or dental check-ups can also help with early detection of cases of mouth cancer. Your dentist should be able to identify the symptoms of mouth cancer very early in advance.
If oral cancer is detected early, a person can pursue a proper course of treatment and get relief within no time.