Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. In 2018, as much as 9.6 million people worldwide died due to some form of cancer. Although mouth or oral cancer is not as common as other types of cancers, the prevalence of oral cancers has increased by 15% from the mid-1970s, as per the survey of National Cancer Institute Survey.
The common causes of cancer include a number of chemical and toxic compounds, ionizing radiation such as ultraviolet light from sunlight, lifestyle habits such as smoking or lack of exercise, bacteria and viruses. Family history is another important factor in determining the tendency of an individual to develop cancer. Signs and symptoms of cancer depend on the location where the cancer is present. However, cancer generally produces the following symptoms: fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite leading to reduction in body weight, pain, and persistent cough with voice change, swelling, skin and tissue changes.
Let’s now discuss how mouth cancer is generally caused and what preventive/remedial steps you can take to increase your chances of avoiding cancer or if you’re a sufferer, to make a recovery.
Talking specifically about mouth cancer now, it can occur in any part of mouth otherwise called oral cavity. With time, it spreads and metastasizes to other parts of oral cavity and to other areas such as head, neck and other parts of the body. The most common mouth cancer causes are cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol intake. Tobacco is an active ingredient of cigarette, cigars, etc. which is a very well-known cancer-causing agent and also a leading cause of lung cancer.
Other factors associated with mouth cancer include infection caused by Human Papilloma Virus and consumption of betel nut. Lip cancer is usually caused by exposure to sunlight. All these risk factors have a tendency to cause change in the DNA content of cells leading, to their uncontrolled replication. Premalignant lesions are lesions found in oral cavity that are benign but have greater than normal risk for malignant transformation. They appear as white patches, red patches, or a combination of both white and red.
Signs that indicate a patient might developed mouth cancer include a mouth or lip sore that does not heal for at least two weeks, a white or red patch, swelling or lump, loose teeth without any obvious cause (such as injury), mouth or ear pain and sudden weight loss. Once the cancer reaches the throat, there might be difficulty swallowing along with change in voice.
Oral cancer can be prevented in most cases by following a healthy lifestyle. For instance, avoidance of unhealthy habits such as tobacco chewing and alcohol consumption should be the first and foremost step of the treatment plan. Patients should be persuaded to try alternatives to smoking such as over-the-counter nicotine patches, gums and lozenges. Physical activity such as running or jogging can help you distract from tobacco cravings.
Smoking is the most common means of dealing with stress. Therefore, patients should be counselled to go for other ways for managing their stress. Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, yoga and listening to calming music can all help you in stress management and stay away from habits such as smoking. We all agree that it is easier said than done but for a person who is determined and goal-oriented, nothing is impossible!
In addition to this, regular dental checkup is essential as a dentist a can detect cancer at an early stage when it is usually present without symptoms. Moreover, the threat of cancer-causing Human Papilloma Virus can be eliminated by vaccinations. For lip cancers, applying a protective sun-screen when going out can be effective in prevention.
Diagnosis requires complete history and clinical examination. Multiple tests are performed in order to identify the type and stage of cancer. Biopsy is a procedure in which a sample is taken from the suspected cancerous tissue and examined to test for the existence of cancerous growths. Other tests such as CT, MRI, ultrasound, etc. are used to determine the size and extent of the cancers. Mouth cancers are treated with surgery alone or in combination with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Mouth cancers and their treatments can lead to numerous complications. Speech problems, changes in appearance of face after surgery, and difficulty swallowing are some of the common consequences of oral cancers. It goes without saying that these can have a major impact on a patient’s emotional and social life. Patients may even fall into depression as a result of the harmful effects caused by mouth cancer. In addition, treatment options such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy causes changes in the lining of the mouth leading to pain and bleeding.
Cancer is a tough disease and the patient needs to be constantly reminded that they are much stronger and tougher than the disease itself. Let them know that you will support them and there are brighter days are ahead. With proper treatment and adequate care, cancer survival is possible!