An explanation of oral cancer

Oral cancer is a common disease which thousands of people develop every year. This condition results in the growth of a malignant tumour inside the mouth. Read on to find out more about this disease.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

The symptoms of oral cancer include, but are not limited to, persistent lumps and mouth ulcers, which do not resolve of their own accord within a few weeks, as well as looseness of the teeth (which is not caused by gum disease or orthodontics). Some sufferers may find that their tongue or lips go numb, whilst others may notice changes to the lining of their inside of their cheeks or tongue. If the tumour is quite large, it may affect the person's speech or make it harder for them to swallow their food.

How is this disease diagnosed?

More often than not, the first signs of oral cancer are identified by the sufferer's dentist during a routine check-up. This is why it is so important for people to attend their bi-annual appointments with their local dental services; doing so could potentially save their lives, as the earlier this disease is identified, the easier it is to treat.

If a person's dentist or doctor notices symptoms which could indicate the presence of cancer in the mouth, they will usually perform an extensive physical examination (this will involve not only checking the mouth but also the neck and jaw for signs of swelling, lumps and other abnormalities) and ask the patient about their medical history.

They may then refer the patient to a specialist so that a biopsy can be performed; this will involve taking a tiny tissue sample from the mouth and then sending this off to a lab for testing. If the biopsy shows that there are cancer cells in the tissue, further tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, may be carried out to confirm the diagnosis.

What are risk factors that increase a person's chances of developing this disease?

If a person smokes cigarettes or a tobacco pipe on a regular basis, they will have a much greater chance of developing oral cancer than those who do not partake in these activities. Similarly, people who frequently drink large amounts of alcohol are at greater risk of getting this disease. Certain viruses, including HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) can also increase the likelihood of oral cancer developing.

How is this disease treated?

One of the most common treatments for oral cancer is surgery; almost all sufferers will have their tumours removed from their mouths soon after they have been diagnosed. Additionally, many people with this disease will undergo several rounds of chemotherapy; this involves using cytotoxic medication to kill off cancer cells. Last but not least, in some cases, radiotherapy (the process of using high energy waves to destroy malignant cells) may also be necessary.

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