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Oral cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About oral cancer

Oral cancer refers to the cancer occurring in any part of the oral cavity or mouth like lip (excluding the skin portion of lip), inside of cheeks, gums, salivary glands, palate (roof of mouth), floor of the mouth (area below the tongue), tongue, pharynx, and tonsils. Most commonly, oral cancer begins over the tongue and floor of the mouth. It can spread to other parts of the mouth and to the adjacent tissues.

Oral Cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Oral cancer is often discovered at a later stage, when it has spread to other tissues. Thus, the survival rate associated with oral cancer is quite low. The incidence of oral cancer is higher in middle-aged individuals with higher gender predilection towards men.

Signs and symptoms of oral cancer: Diagnosis

Regular check-up of oral cavity by your dentist, can help diagnose oral cancer at an early stage. Some common symptoms of oral cancer are ulcerative lesions and white or red-coloured patches in the mouth. Other features include bleeding in the mouth, lesions or difficulty in swallowing. Spread of the cancer to the adjacent structures or lymph nodes in the neck may present with a lump in the neck.

Biopsy (removal of a portion of the lesion under local anaesthesia) is done for microscopic examination of cancerous lesions, which helps in confirming the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of oral cancer

The main cause of oral cancer is the persistent use of tobacco (tobacco in any form like cigarette, cigar, pipes, chewing of betel nut and dipping snuff) and alcohol. Individuals with history of head and neck cancer are at increased risk.

Prevention lies in refraining from use of tobacco and alcohol. Periodic clinical examination of the oral cavity by a healthcare professional is advisable for early detection of cancer, if present.

Oral cancer: Complications

Oral cancer is known to spread to the adjacent structures in the advanced stages. Moreover, surgical management of cancer may result in physical disfigurement of the face, which can be a source of intense distress to the patient.

Oral cancer: Treatment

The treatment of oral cancer depends upon various factors namely age, general health of individual and location, extent and size of cancerous lesions. As with other cancers, the treatment modalities include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Patients may opt for either any one or a combination of these treatment modalities. In most oral cancer cases, surgery is the mainstay of treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy may be considered in individuals wherein the surgical removal of cancerous lesion is not possible.

Some individuals may require plastic or reconstructive surgery to rebuild the bones or tissues of the mouth while some may also need tissue grafts for tissue repair for refining the physical appearance after surgery. It is important to provide follow-up care to check for any recurrence of oral cancer.