Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can grow anywhere in the oral cavity, which includes our lips, tongue, gums and even the floor and roof of our mouths. There are several types of oral cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. If detected early, oral cancer can be cured by surgically removing cancerous growths or tumors or using radiation therapy. Dentists are your first line of defense in early detection, since they are likely the first to spot a precancerous or cancerous lesion. Men are more likely to develop oral cancer, making it the sixth most common cancer among men. Smoking and drinking alcohol in excess can increase your risk. Learn more about preventing and treating oral cancer with expert advice from Sharecare.

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    Complications from mouth cancer stem from either the cancer itself or from treating the cancer. If cancer spreads to other tissues, often to the neck or throat, the disease may prove fatal. If caught early, before it has spread, the cure rate is close to 90%. However, the surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy used to treat mouth cancer can itself cause complications. These include difficulty swallowing and dry mouth, an inability to produce enough saliva for good oral health.

    Surgery may disfigure the face, head, or neck. Once you have been treated for mouth cancer, you should work closely with your dentist and doctor to identify and treat any complications that arise from the disease or treatment. 
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    In the early stages, oral cancer can be simply unpleasant, as it causes mouth discomfort and pain. However, if left untreated, certain types of oral cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become even more dangerous. For example, one type of oral cancer, malignant melanoma, has a much higher rate of metastasis (spreading to other areas of the body) than does another type of oral cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. If you have symptoms of oral cancer, you should see your doctor right away, as there is a higher probability that your doctors will be able to get rid of the cancer if they find it early.

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    Signs and symptoms that could indicate oral cancer include:
    • any sign of irritation, like tenderness, burning or a sore that will not heal
    • pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips
    • development of a lump, or a leathery, wrinkled or bumpy patch inside your mouth; color changes to your oral soft tissues (gray, red or white spots or patches), rather than a healthy pink color
    • difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
    • any change in the way your teeth fit together
    See your dentist or physician if you notice any of these changes.
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    Mouth cancer may starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.

    Here are some things to be aware of if you are concerned about mouth (oral) cancer:
    • Any area of the oral cavity, including lips, gum tissue, check lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate can be affected;
    • It can change the way the teeth fit together;
    • It most often occurs in those who use tobacco in any form.
    Other signs include:
    • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal;
    • A color change of the oral tissues;
    • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area;
    • Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips;
    • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
    Oral cancer can be diagnosed only with a biopsy, when a sample of tissue in the area is removed and examined under a microscope. However, your dentist can identify suspicious-looking areas or growths that may need further evaluation.
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    The following can help reduce your risk of oral cancer:
    • The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid tobacco and alcohol use.
    • Regular dental check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.
    • Many types of abnormal cells can develop in the oral cavity in the form of red or white spots. Some are harmless and benign, some are cancerous and others are pre-cancerous, meaning they can develop into cancer if not detected early and removed.
    • Finding and removing epithelial dysplasias before they become cancer can be one of the most effective methods for reducing the incidence of cancer.
    • Knowing the risk factors and seeing your dentist for oral cancer screenings can help prevent this deadly disease. Routine use of the Pap smear since 1955, for example, dramatically reduced the incidence and mortality rates for cervical cancer in the United States.
    • Oral cancer is often preceded by the presence of clinically identifiable premalignant changes. These lesions may present as either white or red patches or spots. Identifying white and red spots that show dysplasia and removing them before they become cancer is an effective method for reducing the incidence and mortality of cancer.
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    Your risk of developing oral cancer is much higher if you use tobacco and also drink heavily. Avoid all tobacco products. Visit your dentist for regular oral cancer screenings that may save your life!
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    The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid tobacco and alcohol use. Smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue, and pancreas. Users also may be at risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder, because they swallow some of the toxins in the juice created by using smokeless tobacco.

    Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination. Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.
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    There are some ways in which you can reduce your risk for mouth cancer, though you may not be able to fully prevent it. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol use will reduce the risk. Regular examination of the mouth will also help to monitor for any precancerous or cancerous growths. Also, limiting sun exposure will reduce the risk of mouth cancer.

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    Your diet is an important part of your treatment for oral cancer. You need the right amount of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals to maintain your strength and to heal.

    However, when you have oral cancer, it may be difficult to eat. You may be uncomfortable or tired, and you may have a dry mouth, have trouble swallowing, or not feel like eating. You also may have nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea from cancer treatment or pain medicine.

    Sore mouth -- If your mouth is sore, you may find that you want to avoid acidic foods, such as oranges and tomatoes. Also, to protect your mouth during cancer treatment, it helps to avoid sharp, hard foods, such as chips.

    Dry mouth -- If your mouth is dry, you may find that soft foods moistened with sauces or gravies are easier to eat. Smooth soups, puddings, milkshakes, and blended fruit smoothies often are easier to swallow.

    Trouble swallowing -- If there's a chance that swallowing will become too difficult for you, your dietitian and doctor may recommend another way for you to receive nutrition. For example, after surgery or during radiation therapy for oral cancer, some people need a temporary feeding tube. A feeding tube is a flexible tube that is usually passed into the stomach through an incision in the abdomen. A liquid meal replacement product (such as Boost or Ensure) can be poured through the tube at mealtime. When not in use, the small tube attached to your stomach is not visible to others.

    This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.
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    During your dental visit, your dentist can talk to you about your health history and examine areas for signs of mouth and/or throat cancer. Regular visits to your dentist can improve the chances that any suspicious changes in your oral health will be caught early, at a time when cancer can be treated more easily.

    Tips for cleaning your mouth:
    • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush twice a day. If it hurts, soften the bristles in warm water.
    • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
    • Use the special fluoride gel that your dentist prescribes.
    • Don't use mouthwashes with alcohol in them.
    • Floss your teeth gently every day. If your gums bleed and hurt, avoid the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.
    • Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt in one quart of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse.
    • Dentures that don't fit well can cause problems. Talk to your cancer doctor or dentist about your dentures.
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