Mouth / Oral Cancer: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Outlook

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a women with symptoms of mouth/oral cancer

1Overview

Cancers are abnormal cells that rapidly grows and invades the healthy tissues surrounding it just like mouth sores. Mouth cancers start from a simple sore that can lead to a more serious complication, it is usually found on the mouth like the tongue, lips, cheeks, palates, sinuses and even in the throat.

2Types

There are several types of mouth cancers that can be identified by the type of cell that causes cancer. The most common type of mouth cancer is the squamous cell carcinoma. The squamous cells are found in the lining of the oral mucosa, which appears to be a scale-like. Almost 90 percent of mouth cancers have this type of cancer. The other types are as follows:

Lymphomas

Lymph nodes are found in almost the entire body, it acts as one of the defense mechanism of the body. Cancer may grow in the lymph nodes especially in the tonsils and at the base of the tongue which has many lymphoid tissues.

Minor salivary gland carcinomas

The salivary glands produce enzymes that help in the digestion of the food. It is located on each side of the jaws under the tongue. Cancer cells may start and develop in the glands in the mouth like polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma.

Benign oral cavity and oropharyngeal tumors

These are tumors that are non-cancerous in nature that can develop into a cancerous lesion at times. Some benign tumors are Fibroma, Eosinophilic granuloma, Osteochondroma, Lipoma, and Neurofibroma. These are usually removed surgically.

Verrucous Carcinoma

This is a rare type of cancer that is slow-growing squamous carcinoma cells.

Erythroplakia

A red, flat or raised patch in the oral mucosa that usually bleeds. At first, it is non-cancerous but can develop into a cancerous lesion.

Leukoplakia

A white patch lesion sometimes accompanied by erythroplakia. A biopsy can be performed to determine if the lesion is cancerous or benign. About 25 percent of this case can develop into a more serious condition.

Oral malignant sarcomas

It involves the melanocytes that produce dark pigments on the skin. The sign that the pigment is cancerous is that it is bleeding and usually is painful.

3Symptoms

Mouth cancers start as a simple white patch, a lesion or sometimes starts as a canker sore. Common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • A velvety red or white patches in the mouth that is found on the insides of the cheeks.
  • Bleeding in the mouth that the cause is not determined.
  • Swellings or lumps found in the insides of the mouth or even on the gums
  • Unexplained lesions on the lips or in the insides of the oral mucosa.
  • Tenderness and sometimes pain is felt in the face and neck.
  • Numbness in the face is felt
  • Throat irritation or something is stuck in the back of the throat
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Inability to chew, swallow, and even speak properly.
  • Chronic ear pain
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Hoarseness of voice or even loss of voice
  • Jaw pain is felt.
  • Teeth that are loosened
  • Lump found in the neck

4Causes

The mutations in the cell can result in cancer that can occur in many parts of the body including in the mouth. The mutated cell then invades the healthy cells and accumulates forming a tumor in the mouth. The cause of mutation in the squamous cells are not yet discovered but there are several risk factors that were determined that can increase risk the of a person having cancer.

Smoking tobacco can also cause mouth cancer because of the substance found in the cigarette. The chemicals then attached to the walls of the mouth and can damage the normal flora of the mucosa that can cause lesions. Having infected by the Human Papilloma Virus that causes genital warts can increase the risk of having oral cancers.

5Risk Factors

There are several factors that can increase the percentage of a person having oral cancer like:

Age – Oral cancers are common in elderly patients ranging from 55 years old.

Gender – Males have a higher risk of having mouth cancers than women, it is linked to tobacco use and alcohol consumption but according to a research, the difference between men and women developing mouth cancer is decreasing because some women today also use tobacco and drink alcohol.

Genetic – Those who have a family history of having oral cancer can also increase the percentage of having oral cancer.

Tobacco use – The use of tobacco can increase the risk of having mouth cancer.
The chemicals found in tobacco can damage the mucosa causing lesions in the mouth.

Alcohol consumption – Heavy drinkers have increased the risk of mouth and throat cancer than those people who occasionally drink or do not drink alcohol at all.

Immune suppression – Those who have an impaired immune system can be at risk of having cancer. As the immune system deteriorates, the body is put at a greater risk of acquiring different illnesses including cancer.

Human Papilloma Virus – Those who have been infected with Human Papillomavirus can be at risk of having oral cancer. Researchers have proved that the HPV that causes genital warts contributes to having mouth and throat.

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light – Persons who often expose themselves to ultraviolet light especially during at an early age without protection can be at risk.

6Diagnosis

A dentist can perform a dental exam, the dentist then feels for any bumps or lumps in the oral cavity.  The dentist will take note if there are any changes in the mucosa of the mouth, teeth, tongue and even the gums.

A biopsy is done when there are any suspicious lesions inside the mouth, the doctor will then remove the lesion using a scalpel and have it forwarded to the laboratory to be tested and examined.

7Treatment

The treatment depends on the location of cancer.

Surgery

The most appropriate treatment is through surgery, the patient will undergo removal of the tumor. An incision will be done under an anesthesia and surgically remove the infected site.

Mouth reconstruction

Mouth reconstruction is done after the removal of a tumor, to facilitate the normal function of the mouth, Dental implants are also done as a reconstructive surgery. Lymphadenectomy is done when the lymph node on the neck or in the tonsils are affected and needed to be removed.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is also an option to remove the cancer cells by the use of chemicals that can eradicate the cancer cells that are left.

Radiation therapy

Another treatment is Radiation therapy, which uses X-ray beams that contains a very high energy that can destroy the cancer cells. These treatments have adverse effects that the patient might find it uncomfortable to deal with drying of mouth, nausea, and vomiting that is accompanied by fatigue.

The use of treatments like surgery is usually combined with either chemotherapy or radiation therapy increases the effectiveness of the treatment, it depends on what the doctor thinks is appropriate for the patient to have.

8Outlook

The outlook of having a mouth cancer depend on the location and the stage where the cancer is detected. If cancer is present on the lips or on the tongue the survival rate is high, a simple excision of the tumor on the site can have 90 percent chance that cancer will not recur.

With cancers that are located on the throat or cancerous lesions that are large in size may require invasive treatments, but overall the percentage of survival is above 50% and the person may live up to more than 5 years without cancer recurring.

9Prevention

One way to prevent mouth cancer is to quit using tobacco and also cigarettes. The harsh chemicals found inside a cigarette can put a person at risk of cancer.

When a patient is under a certain treatment, restriction of smoking cigarettes and tobacco is a must because it hinders in the natural healing process of the body and also it can increase the risk of the person.

Together with cessation of tobacco use, avoid or quit alcohol consumptions also, it can greatly decrease the chance of having oral cancer in the future. Aside from quitting tobacco and alcohol, there other ways to prevent oral cancer include:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Boosting your immune system can prevent certain illnesses and decreases the risk of having cancer.
  • The monthly physical examination can be done to take note if there are any changes in the body including the mouth. If you suspect any lumps or lesions that are not present before, seek a doctor immediately and have it checked. Have a detailed history of the suspicious lump or lesion and do not be afraid to ask the doctor if you did not understand a term or statement, make a list of medications that you are taking and tell the doctor if you have other illnesses. These details can help the doctor determine the next step of the check-up.
  • Avoid staying under the sun for long periods of time to avoid exposure to the ultraviolet light. Put protection like sunblock lotion on our skin and a small amount of lotion on the lips.