Oral cancerOral cancer is part of a group of cancers called head and neck cancers. Oral cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity or oropharynx. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth. Almost all oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas.
When oral cancer spreads (metastasizes), it usually travels through the lymphatic system. Cancer cells that enter the lymphatic system are carried along by lymph, a clear, watery fluid. The cancer cells often appear first in nearby lymph nodes in the neck.
The oral cavity and oropharynx have many parts: -
- Lining of your cheeks
- Salivary glands (glands that make saliva)
- Roof of your mouth (hard palate)
- Back of your mouth (soft palate and uvula)
- Floor of your mouth (area under the tongue)
- Gums and teeth
What causes oral cancer?
The main causes of oral cancer are: -
- tobacco use (90 percent of people with oral cancers use tobacco by smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and dipping snuff)
- alcohol use
Other causes of oral cancer may include the following: -
- Leukoplakia - a condition characterized by a whitish patch that develops inside the mouth or throat.
- Erythroplakia - a condition characterized by a red, raised patch that develops inside the mouth.
- Excessive sun exposure, which, like elsewhere on the body, can cause cancer on the lip
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
The following are the most common symptoms for oral cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
Symptoms may include: -
- a lip or mouth sore that does not heal
- a white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of mouth
- a lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat
- unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth area
- swelling of the jaw
- pain in the ear
- change in voice
- a chronic sore throat
- feeling as if something is caught in the throat
- pain or difficulty in swallowing or chewing
What are the different types of oral cancer?
Oral tumors can develop anywhere in the oral cavity and oropharynx (or the back of the mouth where it connects with the throat). Some tumors are benign (non-cancerous), some may be precancerous (a condition that may become cancerous), while others may be cancerous. Different types of oral cancer may develop in different areas of the mouth and throat.
Understanding cancerCancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.
Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.
Sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Treatment for oral cancerSpecific treatment for oral cancer will be determined by your physician based on: -
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
Treatment may include: -
Different surgery techniques are used to remove specific types of oral tumors, including: -
- Primary tumor resection - removal of the entire tumor and surrounding area of tissue
- Mandible resection -removal of all or part of the jawbone
- Maxillectomy - removal of the tumor, including part or all of the hard palate (roof of the mouth), if bone is involved
- Mohs' micrographic surgery - removal of the tumor in "slices" to minimize amount of normal tissue removed (may be considered when the cancer involves the lip)
- Laryngectomy - removal of a large tumor of the tongue or oropharynx, which may involve removing the larynx (voice box)
- Neck dissection - if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, these lymph nodes may need to be removed as well.
- Radiation therapy - treatment that uses high-energy rays that damage cancer cells and halts the spread of cancer. Radiation therapy is very localized, aimed at only the area where the cancer is present. Radiation therapy may be administered externally with a machine, or internally with radioactive materials.
- Chemotherapy - medications that kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy has the ability to interfere with the cancer cell's replication. Chemotherapy may be used in combination with surgery and radiation therapy.
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