What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer is a malignant tumour in the oral mucosa. The tumour consists of cells which differ from the normal tissue of the mucosa and which grow uncontrollably. Oral cancer affects both men and women, but it is most common in men over age 50, and 7,900 men were diagnosed with the disease in the UK in 2014 compared to 3,500 women. Roughly 80 % will be alive one year after the diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
People with oral cancer will possibly experience some of the following symptoms, but not everyone experiences any change. However, often the symptoms include:
- Ulcers or sores that don’t heal and possibly bleeding
- Lumps in the mucosa
- A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
- Difficulty eating
- Swollen lymph nodes on the neck
Often the lumps develop on or below the tongue, but they might also develop on the inside of the lips. The symptoms can be signs of other diseases as well, but if you experience any of the symptoms above, please contact your GP for an examination of your oral cavity. The faster the treatment, the better the prognosis.
What are the causes of oral cancer?
Cancer can be caused by various factors. Cells change when mutations occur in their DNA and these changes can happen randomly in the cells. But the changes might also occur due to exposure to several factors. When a cell divides, mutations occur randomly in the DNA, and this is usually harmless, but as we get older, these mutations accumulate. The mutations might enable the cells to grow uncontrollably, to form lumps and potentially spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). Oral cancer can thus develop due to random occurrences in the cell division process, but it has also been associated with exposure to asbestos, poor oral hygiene, smoking and alcohol – the more exposure, the bigger the risk. On the contrary, fruits and vegetables are thought to lower the risk of oral cancer because of their content of carotenoids.
How is oral cancer treated?
Often oral cancer is treated with radiation therapy, surgery or a combination of the two. This cancer type rarely spreads beyond the lymph nodes on the neck, and it is therefore often possible to cure the patient by treating these two areas. Some patients will experience late complications of the treatment in the form of dry mouth, hoarseness, changes in sense of taste etc., but far from everyone experiences these complications.