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Oral Cancer: Risk Factors, Diagnosis And Treatment

July 12, 2021

Oral cancer also called mouth cancer or squamous cell carcinoma is cancer of the lining of the lips, mouth, or upper throat.

It is a subgroup of head & neck cancers. 

One of the first symptoms is a tumor or a white patch that develops in any part of the mouth. 

As observed clinically at Kirkland Premier Dentistry, it could be on the surface of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the palate, the lips, or the gums. 

Gradually it thickens, becomes red, ulcerous & grows in size. Other symptoms may include: 

  • Difficulty or pain while swallowing
  • Mouth ulcers that don’t heal for several weeks.
  • Lumps in the mouth or the neck 
  • Loosening teeth for no reason or sockets not healing after extractions
  • Persistent numbness or an unusual feeling in the oral cavity anywhere.
  • White or red patches on the oral lining or tongue.

What Are the Risk Factors of Oral Cancer?

Risk factors for oral cancer are of 3 types- lifestyle, general or hereditary.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Tobacco

Around 80 percent of patients with oral cancers consume tobacco. It could be smoking or chewing tobacco.  

The risk further depends on the consumption, and how frequent or high it is.

Smoking causes mouth and throat cancer while chewing leads mostly to cancer in the gums, cheeks, or lips.

Alcohol

Studies indicate that two-thirds of oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers.

The risk becomes even higher when they consume tobacco as well. For smokers and drinkers, the risk is double that of a non-addict. 

Betel Quid

Numerous people in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world chew gutka or betel quid, betel leaf wrapped on areca nut and lime, also referred to as paan). Both these are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Also Read: Future of Dentistry- 3D Printing Metallic Implants

General Risk Factors

HPV Infection

A sexually transmitted virus by name of human papillomavirus (HPV) is also a risk factor for mouth cancer. 

HPV is the most common virus implicated in oral carcinogenesis. They are DNA viruses and are epitheliotropic.

Sun Exposure on the Lower Lip

Radiation and extreme sun exposure are also risk factors for cancer of the mouth.

Hereditary Risk Factors

A family history of cancer plays an important role in a person’s ability to acquire or fight carcinogenic growths. 

There are numerous other general factors such as immune response, occupational factors or dietary disorders.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

Early signs of oral cancer are usually in the form of tumors, ulceration, or patches in the mouth.

The formed ulcers are mostly dry & crusty on the lips while in the windpipe they appear as masses.

Accompanying conditions are loose teeth, bleeding gums, earache, numbness, or swelling.

As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct a cancer screening examination if he feels any lumps or irregular tissue changes in the neck, head, face, or oral cavity. 

He may perform a biopsy to determine the makeup of a suspicious-looking potion.

Oral Cancer Treatment at Kirkland Premier Dentistry

Oral cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) is normally treated with surgery and/or in combination with other therapies including radiation & chemotherapy.

Mostly the removal of squamous cell carcinoma from the oral cavity & neck is achieved through surgery. 

That way the surgeon can also do a detailed pathological examination of the tissue, its depth & spread to lymph nodes and if there is a requirement for radiation or chemotherapy. 

When the tumors include the jaw bone, a part of the bone may also be removed along with the tumor.

Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are most often used as a combination with surgery, to curb cancer that is at stage 2 or higher and has taken root in lymph nodes or other areas.  

For very small lesions, the doctor may use radiotherapy alone.

Chemotherapy is never used alone as a single therapy for oral cancer lesions. In incurable cases, it can be used to extend life.

Monoclonal antibody therapy is also an effective treatment in the case of head and neck cancers for the management of the disease in conjunction with other modalities. 

The Takeaway

It is clear that although several risk factors are indicated in the occurrence of oral cancer, the most established ones are alcohol, tobacco smoking & betel quid chewing.

These should be avoided in the lifestyle. 

Nonetheless, many patients with oral cancer do not have any link to lifestyle or environmental risk factors. 

Genetic susceptibility may be a factor there.

It has become important for doctors and dentists to conduct a thorough examination of the mouth, neck and ears for early symptoms of oral cancer, especially for patients with a family history.

At Kirkland Premier Dentistry Dr. Gaurav Sharma has 400+ hours of Continuing education from the prestigious AAID (American Academy of Implant Dentistry) He applies for the latest research & advances in dentistry to provide the best dental care to patients.

Also, the patient himself must take routine appointments at their nearest dental clinic in Kirkland for oral health issues and warnings.

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