Oral cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lips, the oral cavity, the inner side of the gums or the palate.
Oral cancer can progress to any region of the oral or oropharyngeal cavity. Most often, oral cancer starts in the mouth or tongue. Most oral cancers are characterized by the presence of squamous cells covering the surface of the lips, tongue and mouth. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas.
As oral cancer disease develops, it spreads throughout the body via the lymphatic system. The squamous cells, which infiltrate the lymphatic system, are mediated by the lymph.
Often the cancer cells first appear near the lymph nodes near the throat. Squamous cells can also spread to other areas of the throat, lungs or other areas of the body.
Who develops oral cancer?
There is no scientific explanation for why some people are predisposed to developing oral cancer, but it is not a contagious disease.
Research has shown that people with specific risk factors are more likely than others to develop oral cancer.
Predisposing risk factors:
- Tobacco use, whether smoking, chewing, etc., leads to the development of oral cancer. Heavy smokers are among those most at risk of developing oral cancer
- alcohol, the amount of alcohol consumed is directly proportional to the risk we are exposed to
- sunlight – cancers developed in the lips can be caused by prolonged exposure to the sun without protective factors
- lack of oral hygiene
- infectious agents (dental abscesses or untreated ulcers)
- personal medical history of head and neck cancer
- working environment, presence of harmful substances in the inhaled air, degree of pollution
- the quality of the water we drink, the presence of potentially carcinogenic substances
- the quality of the food we eat, the presence of food preservatives or pesticides on fruit and vegetables
Early signs of oral cancer can be detected at routine check-ups, at the dentist’s or family doctor’s, by checking for specific clinical signs.
The most common symptoms, in oral cancer disease, include:
- white lesions (leukoplakia) that malign or mixed white and red spots (erythroleukoplakia) that are more likely to malign
- bright red lesions (erythroplakia) with a smooth surface that often malign
- inflammation or lesion in the lip or oral cavity that does not heal
- the presence of chronic bleeding in the oral cavity
- loss of teeth
- pain or difficulty swallowing
- discomfort when wearing dentures
- the appearance of a lump in the throat
- ear pain.
If a person has symptoms that may indicate oral cancer, the oral cavity and throat will be examined for white, red lesions, nodules, swelling, inflammation or other abnormalities.
The dentist or family doctor will carry out the consultation, starting with the oral floor and continuing with the palate, gums, tongue, throat and cheeks. Lymph node groups will be palpated and, if an abnormal area is observed, a biopsy will be performed, which is an accurate way of diagnosing whether or not the area is cancerous.
Treatment of oral cancer
If the biopsy shows the presence of cancer, the stage of the disease will be assessed in order to choose the most appropriate treatment plan. This is determined by the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. This will involve a series of laboratory tests and sometimes, depending on the case, endoscopy may be necessary.
Depending on the assessments made by the doctors, the treatment plan chosen may be surgery, Iridium brachytherapy, chemotherapy or cobalt therapy.
A diet low in animal fats and rich in vegetables and fruit is recommended. Fatty acids, such as Omega 3, have a beneficial effect on rebalancing the body.