Early signs of mouth cancer present with the following:
- Mouth cancers usually begin as a flat lesion in any part of the oral cavity
- A white or red patch in the mouth
- An ulcer which does not heal on the lips or inside the mouth
- Bleeding from the ulcer
- A swelling/lump in the oral cavity
- Pain in the mouth
- Pain radiating to the ear
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue, causing difficulty in chewing and talking
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Loosening and falling of teeth
- Loss of weight (without trying)
What causes mouth cancer?
Researchers have suggested that mouth cancers arise from cells in the oral cavity, which undergo DNA mutations (a permanent change in the DNA sequence). The mutations cause the cells to grow and divide rapidly and abnormally. The exact cause of the DNA mutations in cells is not known, but certain factors increase the risk of developing cancer. They are
- Tobacco in any form (chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and snuff), significantly increases the risk of oral cancer
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Age: The risk for mouth cancer increases with age and is more common after the age of 60 years
- Sun exposure: Excessive sun exposure can increase the risk of mouth cancer developing from the lips
- Sex: Men are two times more likely than women to develop mouth cancer
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): The virus is usually sexually transmitted, and certain strains of HPV increases the risk of mouth cancer
- A weak immune system due to conditions like HIV, malnutrition, etc.
- Sharp tooth, causing chronic trauma and irritation to the buccal mucosa or tongue
- Poor dental hygiene
How is mouth cancer treated?
Treatment of mouth cancer depends on the location and stage of cancer. Treatment may involve one or a combination of treatment modalities.
Treatment options include:
- Surgery: If the tumor is localized, the surgeon may only remove the tumor with a margin of normal tissue surrounding the tumor. If the tumor has spread to other parts of the head and neck, the lymph nodes and affected tissues may be removed. If a significant part of the tissue has been removed, leaving a defect, reconstructive surgery would be performed by the surgeon.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy involves using high-energy radiation beams like X-rays to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves using chemicals to kill cancer cells.
- Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drugs alter certain proteins of the cancer cells that affect their growth and cause the death of the cancer cell.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
Can mouth cancer be prevented?
It may not always be possible to prevent oral cancer just like any other cancer. Some lifestyle modifications can reduce the risk of oral cancer, such as:
- Avoiding tobacco consumption in any form
- Limiting the consumption of alcohol
- Having a healthy, nutritious diet and exercising regularly
- Applying sunblock all over the face and neck. The lips should be protected by using a lip balm with sunscreen.
- Maintaining good oral hygiene
- Treatment of sharp tooth
- Visiting the dentist regularly to ensure oral health
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