Cancer is defined as the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in a part of the body, which invades, destroys or affects the functioning of the part of the body affected. As today is Blue Wednesday – an awareness day for Mouth Cancer, we will be focusing today’s blog post on this disease.
Oral (mouth) cancer can affect the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, floor of the mouth, palates, sinuses and throat, and like any cancer, it can be fatal if not treated. Most mouth cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas; this means that they develop in the lining of the mouth. Although mouth cancer is relatively rare in comparison to other types of cancers, it is on the rise across the world, so it is worth being aware of the causes and symptoms of this disease. Men are twice as likely to be affected by mouth cancer as women, and men over age 50 are at the greatest risk of all.
The exact cause of mouth cancers is unknown, but certain risk factors (things that can increase your risk of getting mouth cancer) have been identified, and some of these are listed below:
- Age: your risk increases as you get older
- Gender: men are at a higher risk
- Smoking: cigarettes increase your risk for this disease, but so do smoking pipes and chewing tobacco
- Alcohol: over indulgence in alcohol (especially spirits)
- Diet: a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables increases your risk
- Sun exposure: if you are exposed to long periods of bright light, you are more likely to develop cancers in or around the mouth, especially on the lips
The symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancers depend on where the tumour is found. Some common symptoms include:
- A sore or ulcer that does not heal
- Difficulty or pain with chewing and swallowing
- Sore throat, or a hoarse voice
- Changes in your breathing
- Unexplained loose tooth
- A swelling or lump
- Pain in the mouth
- Loss of sensation (numbness)
- White or red patches in the lining of the mouth or on the tongue that do not go away
If you are worried about your symptoms, visit your GP or dentist as soon as you can, and they will examine you and do some blood tests. If your GP or dentist believes that there is cause for further investigation, they can refer you to a hospital for additional tests. You may be referred to a specialist doctor, such as a maxillofacial surgeon or an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist.
The specialist will discuss your symptoms and examine you again. He or she will inspect your mouth, throat, tongue, nose and neck using a small mirror and/or lights. Your neck, lips, gums and cheeks will also be checked for lumps. Based on this examination, some further tests might be ordered.
One or more of the following tests might be recommended for you, and you can discuss these in further detail with your healthcare specialist:
- Fine needle aspiration cytology
There is no “one size fits all” treatment for cancer. After careful assessment of your individual case, doctors use different treatments, or a combination of them, to achieve the best outcome for you.
If the cancer has not spread from beyond the mouth, it may be possible to treat the cancer using surgery alone. For mouth cancer, the aim of surgical treatment is to remove any affected areas while minimizing damage to the rest of the mouth.
If your cancer is more advanced, it may be necessary to remove part of your mouth lining and, in some cases, facial skin. The removed skin can be replaced using a skin flap.
If your tongue is affected, part of the tongue will have to be removed. This is known as a partial glossectomy. The tongue is then reconstructed using grafted tissue.
Sometimes, if the cancer has spread locally, it might be necessary to remove some of the bones in the area, such as jawbones. During surgery, your surgeon may remove lymph nodes that are near the site of the initial tumour.
Radiotherapy uses doses of radiation to kill cancerous cells. It may be possible to remove the cancer using radiotherapy alone, but it is usually used after surgery to prevent the cancer from re-occurring.
While it kills cancerous cells, radiotherapy can also affect healthy tissue, and it has a number of side effects, but these will be discussed with you in detail before undergoing the treatment.
Chemotherapy involves the use of powerful cancer-killing drugs. It can be used in combination with the treatments outlined above, especially if the cancer is widespread or if there is a risk of the cancer re-occurring. As with radiotherapy, there are side effects associated with use of chemotherapy, and you should talk to your specialist if you are concerned about these.
If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing the symptoms above, it is best to get a GP’s advice. Whether you’re looking to book a doctors appointment or a walk in clinic near me, London Doctors Clinic is here.
By Melissa Dillon