Oral cancer occurs when a tumor develops on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips or gums. Symptoms include red or white patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue and persistent ulcers or lumps that do not disappear.
Carcinoma is the type of cancer that develops on the inside or outside layer of the body. The squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of mouth cancer, accounting for nine out of 10 cases. Squamous cells “live” in many places around the body, including the inside of the mouth and under the skin.
Mouth cancer occurs when something goes wrong with the normal cell lifecycle, causing them to grow and reproduce uncontrollably. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and in some cases infection of the HPV virus. will irritate these cells.
Who is affected by mouth cancer?
Oral cancer is an uncommon type of cancer, accounting for one in 50 of all cancer cases. It is more common in mature adults from ages 50 -70 and older and affects more men than women. Oral cancer can develop in younger adults, but the main cause is HPV infection.
There are three main treatment options for mouth cancer.
- surgery – where the cancerous cells are surgically removed
- chemotherapy – where powerful medications kill cancerous cells
- radiotherapy – where high energy X-rays kill cancerous cells
These treatments can often be used in combination, particularly severe cases. For example, a course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be given after surgery to help prevent cancer returning.
Both surgery and radiotherapy can make speaking and swallowing difficult. This can become extremely problematic post surgery and escalate into a serious problem. If pieces of food enter the airways, this could lead to a chest infection. Liquid food is highly recommended following surgery to prevent any further complications.
Reducing the risk
The three most effective ways to prevent mouth cancer from developing include not smoking, consuming sensible alcohol amounts (21 units for men and 14 for women) and eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins and adequate carbohydrates.
It’s also important that you have regular dental check-ups because dentists can often spot the early stages of mouth cancer.
The prognosis for oral cancer varies as with all types of cancer. It depends on which part of the mouth and how spread out it is. If it’s an early diagnosis, the outlook is mostly positive. In this case, a complete cure is often possible using a combination of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.
Overall, an estimated 40% of people with cancer affecting the mouth will live at least five years after their diagnosis and many people live much longer. As with all cancer, this relies on a swift diagnosis and effective treatment.