Mouth Cancer – Symptoms, Causes, Stages, Pictures, Treatment

Cancer caused in oral cavity or mouth is known as mouth cancer. Very often cancerous growth is observed in lips and tongue. Sometimes it may also be seen in cheeks, gums, and palates. The cells called squamous cell causes mouth cancer which is carcinogenic. It has great chance to spread quickly to other parts, if not treated properly. The major causes for getting oral cancer are smoking, chewing tobacco, increased alcohol intake. Sometimes weakened immunity, poor dental hygiene and HPV infection may also cause mouth cancer. The person affected with this disease will have sore, lump or lesions on the mouth and may have problem in eating and drinking. He may also experience pain and difficulty in swallowing due to throat pain.

The doctor will physically examine the individual for checking the presence of cancerous growth in the mouth. He would also ask the patient to undergo gum biopsy to confirm the disease. For mild forms of mouth cancer, radiation and chemotherapy is done. In severe cases, surgery is the only method to remove tumors in mouth.

What Is Mouth (Oral) Cancer ?

Any tumor(s) growing in the oral cavity, pharynx or throat can be described as mouth cancer. Each year around 50,000 fresh cases are diagnosed in the America out of which more than 9,580 are mortal. And the survival for others will be little lower than 5 years. The number of people with mouth cancer is steadily increasing each year.

Mouth Cancer (Oral Cancer) Statistics :

Among all head and neck cancers diagnosed, mouth cancer is about 82% being the leading cause of death. The rate of death owing to oral cancer is only because the cancer can be diagnosed only in the advanced stages where it has metastasized to other parts. Until now no screening tests or program is available to detect oral cancer in early stage. Another factor for huge number is a virus, called HPV16 that accounts for high incidence of mouth cancers in the oropharynx area and in the tonsils.

By the time the first symptom of mouth cancer appears the cancer cells are mostly likely spread to the lymph nodes nearby. Complete cure at this stage is impossible since the primary tumor has already invaded the local lymph nodes and tissues. When comparing with other cancers like cervical cancer, thyroid cancer and lymphoma etc. deaths occurring due to oral cancer is considerably high. Every year around 450,000 cases are being diagnosed of oral cancer worldwide as per the data given by the WHO. Oral cancer is more dangerous and deadly than other cancers because it may not produce any pain or symptoms and because it increases the risk 20 times for developing secondary cancer in future.

What Is Cancer Of The Mouth?

Oral cancer can develop in any part of oral cavity such as lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, roof or floor of the mouth. Mouth cancer is grouped under head and neck cancer category. Cancer is generally caused by the uncontrollable production of cells which piles up to become a mass or tumor. The immune system of the body by mistake produces excess of such cells which gradually attacks and destroys healthy cells. Once the tumor is formed it slowly grows in size invading the nearby tissues and lymph nodes spreading to other parts of the body.

Mouth Cancer Symptoms :

Very often mouth cancer does not produce symptoms in the early stage. Some of the common signs of oral cancer are formation of sores/lesions on the mouth that does not heal even after taking medications. The skin lining of the oral cavity gets thickened forming lumps and reddish patches are seen here and there of the mouth. It can cause sore throat, hoarse voice and throat pain while swallowing. Eventually the teeth become loose causing difficulty while eating and chewing. Stiffness in the mouth or jaw pain is seen in many people with mouth cancer. The dentures that were aptly fitting earlier will now become loose. For some people oral cancer can cause bleeding (without any reason) in the mouth. Sudden numbness in some part of the mouth or face can be felt.

Causes Of Mouth Cancer :

Normal cells in the mouth or oral cavity undergo mutations of DNA giving rise to cancer causing cells. They grow in an uncontrolled fashion and accumulate to form a tumor. These cells would constantly destroy healthy cells not allowing them to grow. Mouth cancer occurs in the squamous cells of the mouth often. But what exactly triggers the mutation in these cells is not known.

Risk Factors :

  • People who use tobacco (in any form) like cigars, pipes, and tobacco chewing for long term are at increased risk of mouth cancer. Smokers have 6 times more risk than non-smokers.
  • People who are constantly using snuff or dip are at 50 times more risk for getting cancers on the gums, cheek and lips lining than others.
  • Drinking alcohol (in excess) can certainly increase the risk of oral cancer up to 8 times.
  • In rare cases HPV virus can cause sqauamous cell cancer.
  • Over exposure of the lips to sunlight can cause oral cancer.
  • People who do not smoke or drink can also get oral cancer due to unknown causes.

Diagnosis :

The doctor would physically examine your mouth checking for any abnormal growth of lesions, red or white patches and painful sores inside the mouth. He may remove a small tissue sample (biopsy) for testing it in the lab for the presence of cancer. He may order for imaging tests like X-ray, CT scan or PET scan to get accurate picture of the cancer. He may do endoscopy by passing lighted instrument into your throat to check signs of cancer beyond the mouth.

Pictures of Mouth Cancer :

Pics, Images, Pictures and Photos of Mouth Cancer

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Mouth (Oral) Cancer Stages :

  • First Stage : It is the initial stage of mouth cancer where small cancer or tumor is present in one area of the mouth.
  • Second Stage : Now the cancer cells multiply erratically thus growing into a tumor affecting one particular area where it is attached.
  • Third Stage : In this stage the cancer cells would have spread to the nearby lymph nodes and tissues thus increasing the area of cancer in the mouth and beyond it.
  • Final Stage : It is the last (advanced) stage of cancer wherein the cancerous cells would have invaded to other parts of the body also spreading cancer into the vital organs.

Treatment :

It is necessary for your doctor to ascertain the stage of cancer and its location before starting the treatment. Mouth cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and by surgery.

  • Radiation :

High energy beams are used to destroy cancerous cells. External beam of rays are sourced from a machine directly into the oral cavity targeting the part where cancer has developed. If this is not possible, radioactive seeds are implanted in the form of wires (brachytherapy) in the mouth near the tumor. Often radiation treatment is given in the early stages of cancer in combination with chemotherapy. For some people it is repeated after surgery to destroy the cancer cells completely. Side effects of radiation include tooth decay, mouth sores, bleeding of gums, dryness in mouth and stiffness of jaw. It can also affect your skin causing burning pain.

  • Chemotherapy :

In this method, powerful chemicals are used to destroy cancerous cells. Drugs can be given in the form of oral pills or as injection. Sometimes it is given in combination with other cancer treatments. Side effects of these chemotherapy drugs are nausea, vomiting and loss of hair.

  • Targeted Therapy :

Here drugs that destroy specific aspects of cancerous cells are destroyed thus controlling its growth. Medications like Cetuximab and others are given for treating oral cancer.

  • Surgery :

Your doctor and surgeon together should decide whether you are suitable patient for surgery. Surgery can be done in many types like removing the tumor alone or removing the tissues and lymph nodes along with tumor and complete reconstruction of mouth.

  • Removing The Tumor :

Here the surgeon would cut the tumor and remove part of healthy tissue surrounding it. Only small sized tumor can be treated in this surgery. For tumor of large size the surgeon would have to remove portion of jawbone or even your tongue, depending on the location and size of tumor. Surgery for removing tumor along with lymph nodes. If the cancer has spread to the throat region your surgeon would remove the tumor with some healthy tissues and do a neck dissection to remove the lymph nodes from the neck.

  • Reconstruction Of Mouth :

This is certainly a lengthy procedure in which the grafts of the skin, bone and muscle have to be transplanted and this surgery can alter the appearance of your face. In some cases it can reduce the speaking ability and may cause difficulty in eating and drinking.

Cope Up Techniques :

  • Living with cancer can make you more fatigue and may lower your mood.
  • Be optimistic and do gentle exercises daily after consulting your doctor.
  • Gentle massage therapy can be done to overcome the fatigue.

Outlook :

  • 80 people out of 100 with oral cancer in advanced stage can live up to one year. About 45-50% of the cases can survive up to 10 years.
  • Prognosis of mouth cancer depends on your age, size of tumor and its stage.

Tips For Prevention :

  • Don’t smoke or drink.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Conduct a self exam and go for regular dental checkup.

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