- Oral cancer is head and neck cancer affecting the mouth, lips, tongue, gums, and throat.
- Common risk factors include tobacco use, alcohol drinking, and more.
- Symptoms include persistent mouth sores, red or white patches in the mouth, unusual bleeding or numbness, difficulty swallowing and speaking, and more.
- Comorbidities associated with oral cancer include malnutrition, infection (including thrush), depression, and substance abuse.
- Prevention methods include replacing gaps in teeth with implants, avoiding tobacco use, and protecting lips from sun damage.
Oral cancer is a serious condition that can affect anyone. It is a type of cancer that develops anywhere in the mouth. The condition can cause various symptoms, including mouth sores, difficulty swallowing, and changes in speech or voice.
Unfortunately, oral cancer is often discovered late in its development, making it difficult to treat. Beyond the cancer itself, patients with oral cancer often have other health issues that can impact their treatment and recovery. Here’s what you need to know about oral cancer, its associated comorbidities, and how to prevent it.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer refers to the abnormal growth and development of malignant cells in the oral cavity, which includes the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, and the floor and roof of the mouth. It is a type of head and neck cancer. Oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
Here are some key points about oral cancer:
Tobacco use (including smoking and smokeless tobacco), excessive alcohol consumption, betel nut chewing, prolonged sun exposure to the lips, a family history of oral cancer, a weakened immune system, and infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV-16 and HPV-18 are all common risk factors of the disease.
Signs And Symptoms
Early detection of oral cancer is crucial for successful treatment. Common signs and symptoms include persistent mouth sores that don’t heal, red or white patches, unusual bleeding or numbness, difficulty swallowing or speaking, a persistent sore throat, a lump or thickening in the cheek, and voice changes. Regular self-examinations of the mouth and routine dental check-ups are essential for early detection.
If oral cancer is suspected, a dentist or doctor will thoroughly examine the oral cavity, including special lights and instruments to visualize abnormal tissue. Biopsy, which involves removing a small tissue sample for laboratory analysis, is typically performed to confirm the presence of cancer cells.
There are also some common comorbidities with the disease. Here are some of them.
Patients with oral cancer can experience difficulty eating and drinking due to pain, swallowing difficulties, or surgery. As a result, they may be unable to consume enough calories, protein, and other nutrients to maintain their health. This can lead to malnutrition, making it harder for patients to recover from other health issues or undergo cancer treatment.
Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can weaken the immune system. This can increase the risk of pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and gum disease. Patients with oral cancer may also have an increased risk of developing infections in the mouth, such as thrush.
A cancer diagnosis can be traumatic and overwhelming, and patients with oral cancer may experience depression and anxiety. Dealing with the physical symptoms of cancer and its treatment can also affect a patient’s mental health.
Unfortunately, some patients with oral cancer may turn to substance abuse to cope with their condition’s pain and stress. This can include alcohol and drug abuse, worsening overall health outcomes and making recovery more difficult.
Oral cancer can cause chronic pain, which can be difficult to manage. Pain can interfere with a patient’s sleep, mood, and overall quality of life. Chronic pain can also make it harder for patients to recover from other health issues or undergo cancer treatment.
Preventing Oral Cancer
Thankfully, there are ways you can prevent this disease. Here are four options you can follow:
Replace Gaps in Teeth
The gaps in your teeth can be a haven for bacteria and viruses. This is why you need to replace them immediately with robust dental implants. These implants are made of durable materials that oral bacteria won’t easily destroy.
Avoid Tobacco Products
Any form of tobacco, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Quitting these products is the best way to lower your risk.
Protect Your Lips from Sun Damage
Prolonged sun exposure to the lips can increase the risk of oral cancer. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher outdoors.
Regular Oral Exams
Regular dental checkups can help catch any signs of oral cancer early on. If anything unusual is detected during an exam, your dentist may recommend further tests or a biopsy to determine if it’s malignant.
These are just a few ways you can prevent oral cancer. Taking the necessary steps can protect your health and reduce your risk of developing this serious condition. With proper education, early detection, and prompt treatment, patients with oral cancer can lead healthier lives.