Oral Cancer Definition, Full Risks & Symptoms Explained

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is an uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and cause damage to the parts that make up the mouth. Mouth cancer occurs when something goes wrong with the normal cell lifecycle, causing them to grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancer can develop in any of the part of the mouth, it usually appears as a growth or sore in the mouth. Oral cancer can develop in the salivary glands, Inner lining of the cheeks, tonsils, pharynx (throat) , floor of the mouth, surface of the tongue, lips, gums, and in the roof of the mouth.

According to studies, researchers have shown that age is the most common risk factor for oral cancer, as historically it occurs in those over the age of 40. Mouth cancer can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated earlier. It’s a part of the group of cancers commonly referred to as head and neck cancers. In addition, men are more likely to have oral cancer than women, maybe due to the fact that men drink more alcohol than women.

Symptoms of oral cancer

Oral cancer is very dangerous, while still at its early stages, most patients may not notice it, as it can frequently prosper without producing pain or symptoms they might readily recognize. The high number of death associated with this cancer is not because that it is hard to diagnose, but due to the fact that the cancer is being routinely discovered late in its development. (1) Some oral cancers especially those that occur in the posterior part of the mouth does not produce visible lesions or discolorations that have historically been the early warning signs of the disease process.

Often most of this type of oral cancers are only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck. However, here are the most common symptoms of oral cancer:

  • Formation of velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue.
  • Gowth of lump or bumps and thickening of the skin on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth.
  • Difficult or painful swallowing. Persistent soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat.
  • Unexplained mouth ulcers or sores, swelling and bleeding in the mouth that can persist for upto 2 weeks without healing.
  • Loose teeth, difficulty in chewing and moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Ear, neck and mouth pain that does not go away.

Risk factors

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 48,330 Americans were expected to receive a diagnosis of oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2016, and about 9,570 deaths were predicted. Some of the factors that can increase your risk of mouth cancer include:

1. Age. Age is frequently named as a risk factor for oral cancer, it mostly occur in those over the age of 40. Men face twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women, and men who are over the age 50 face the greatest risk.

2. Smoking. Smokers are six times more likely to develop oral cancer than nonsmokers. Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, are significant risk factors for oral cancer.

3. Excessive consumption of alcohol. Heavy alcohol drinkers are about six times more likely to have mouth cancer than nondrinkers. When you combine tobacco with heavy use of alcohol, your risk is significantly increased. Those who both smoke and drink, have a fifteen times greater risk of developing oral cancer than those who do not smoke and drink.

4. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Those suffering from sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) are at higher risk of developing oral cancer.

5. Exposure to certain chemicals. Excessive exposure to certain chemicals such as asbestos, sulfuric acid, and formaldehyde can increase your risk especially at a young age.

6. Excessive sun exposure to your lips

7.Family history of cancer.

8. Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is a digestive condition where acid from the stomach leaks back up to the gullet into the mouth frequently.

9. Prior radiation treatment, or radiotherap in the head, neck, or both.

10. Weakened immune system. 

Finally, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, and persistent viral infections such as HPV, are the the main risk factors. According to the American Cancer Society, at least 75% of those diagnosed at 50 and older have been tobacco and alcohol users. However, the remaining 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who do not smoke and who only drink alcohol occasionally. This percentage is now changing, and exact percentages are yet to be definitively determined and published.

How Oral Cancer Is Diagnosed

At home you can conduct a self exam using a bright touch light and mirror. Look and feel for lumps on your lips, gums, cheeks, tongue and on surfaces to your mouth. Check your throat too and feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes in both sides of your neck and under your lower jaw. If you noticed any abnormal changes or signs of oral cancer you should see your doctor or dentist immediately.

To conduct a diagnosis for oral cancer, your doctor or dentist will need to carry out some necessary oral cancer screening examinations. At first, dentist will check for any signs and symptoms associated with oral cancer. He will check for any lumps, tissue discoloration, sores, patch on the inside of your mouth, and other abnormal tissue changes.

A biopsy may be needed to determine the makeup of a suspicious looking area. During biopsy, a small sample of affected tissue is taken and checked for cancerous cells. The test can be conducted with the use of X-ray, Computed Tomography (CT) scans, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging ( MRI ).

According to Medicalnewstoday, A person who is diagnosed with stage 1 oral or pharyngeal cancer has an 83 percent chance of surviving for longer than 5 years. Around 31 percent of cases are diagnosed at this stage. For those whose cancer spreads to other parts of the body, the chance of surviving more than 5 years is 38 percent.

How To Prevent Oral Cancer

1. See your dentist regularly. It’s important to always go for regular dental check-ups, because dentists can often spot the early stages of mouth cancer.

2. Stop smoking and tobacco use. Chewing, smoking and other uses of tobacco exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals.

3. Always eat well balanced diet. Avoid junk foods, saturated fats, and processed meats. Eat those healthy foods that help to boost the immune system and overall body well-being.

4. Avoid excessive sun exposure to your lips. Constant exposure of your lips to sun increases the risk of cancer on the lip. Ensure to stay in the shade when possible. If you must stay under the sun, try as much as possible to protect the skin on your lips by wearing broad-brimmed hat that will shades your entire face. You can apply UV-A/B-blocking sun protective lotions or use sunscreen on your lips.

5. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol. Chronic consumption of alcohol interferes with the health and normal functioning of the cells in your mouth, making them vulnerable to oral cancer. If you must drink alcohol, keep to the recommended weekly limits for alcohol consumption.

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