World Cancer Day: Oral cancers or mouth cancers are among the most common cancers but are often diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment becomes difficult. Oral cancer can affect one or more parts of the mouth, such as lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, floor of mouth or roof of the mouth.
As they grow, they may also involve either jaws or the skin of the face, or can spread to lymph nodes in the neck or elsewhere in the body. Most oral cancers are Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which is a cancer that arises from the lining on the inside of the mouth.
“A non-healing ulcer or sore, which may or may not be painful or which can appear white or red, is the most common symptom of oral cancer. A new lump in the neck that does not go away after several weeks can also be a sign of mouth cancer. Recent or unexplained loosening of a tooth, which does not heal even after extraction, may also be worrisome,” says Dr. Shubham Jain, HOD & Consultant- Surgical oncology, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Delhi.
Men are more at risk of oral cancers than women and the risk increases with age. People who smoke, drink excessively or eat tobacco products, have a family history of cancer or eat a poor diet may also get oral cancer.
“Abuse of tobacco in any form – smoking cigarette or bidi, or chewing gutka or khaini, areca nut (betel quid) or drinking alcohol puts people at risk of developing such cancers. They are risk factors by themselves, but people who consume all of them, are at an even greater risk of developing cancer. Quitting or abstaining from such habits, may in fact be the best safeguard from mouth cancers,” adds Dr Jain.
Oral or mouth cancers can be effectively treated if diagnosed early. An oral self-check once a month by people over the age of 16 years after the teeth have been cleaned might be lifesaving and help in detection of mouth cancer early.
All you need is 2 minutes of your time, a mirror and a good light source. You may do it yourself or ask a friend. Follow these steps recommended by Dr Jain.
* Look inside the lips. Feel the tissue surfaces around the lips and cheeks.
* Look at the gums from the front and using the small mirror, look at the tongue side through another mirror, to view the inner gums.
* By lifting your head back, look at the roof of your mouth and feel with your forefinger if any bumps or growths are present. Also note if any colour changes are evident.
* Take a gauze or tissue and gently pull your tongue out slowly. View all surfaces, top, bottom, sides, to see if any colour changes or if any red or white lesions are present. Also note if any other abnormal changes are present, or if any wound takes too long to heal.
* Feel for lumps in the neck and lower jaw region, on both sides
How is oral cancer treated
“Oral cancer is usually first treated with surgery. Depending upon the extent and spread of cancer, removal of the affected parts of the mouth may be necessary. It may at times be necessary to perform a reconstructive surgery, in order to compensate for the cosmetic or functional deficit caused as a result of cancer. In advanced stages, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery, depending on the burden of disease at the beginning of treatment,” says the expert.
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