Mouth cancer, or oral cancer, can occur anywhere in the mouth, on the surface of the tongue, the lips, inside the cheek, in the gums, in the roof and floor of the mouth, in the tonsils, and in the salivary glands.
It is a type of head and neck cancer and is often treated similarly to other head and neck cancers.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 48,330 Americans were expected to receive a diagnosis of oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2016, and about 9,570 deaths were predicted.
Mouth cancer mostly happens after the age of 40, and the risk is more than twice as high in men as it is in women.
Oral cancer can appear as a lesion or tumor anywhere in the mouth.
In the early stages, there are often no signs or symptoms, but smokers and heavy drinkers should have regular checkups with the dentist, as they may identify early signs.
Signs and symptoms include:
patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue, usually red or red and white in color
mouth ulcers or sores that do not heal
swelling that persists for over 3 weeks
a lump or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth
pain when swallowing
loose teeth with no apparent reason
poorly fitting dentures
jaw pain or stiffness
a sensation that something is stuck in the throat
pain in the neck or ear that does not go away
Having any of these symptoms does not mean that a person has mouth cancer, but it is worth checking with a doctor.
Warning: The following images are graphic:
Skin cancer of the lip
Mouth cancer in a 40-year-old smoker
Cancer of the tongue
Cancer of the lower lip
Cancer under the tongue
Mouth cancer of the bottom lip
Treatment depends on the location and stage of the cancer, and the patient’s general health and personal preferences. A combination of treatments may be necessary.
Surgical removal of the tumor involves taking out the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around it. A small tumor will require minor surgery, but for larger tumors, surgery may involve removing some of the tongue or the jawbone.
If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, the cancerous lymph nodes and related tissue in the neck will be surgically removed.
If surgery significantly changes the appearance of the face, or the patient’s ability to talk, eat, or both, reconstructive surgery may be necessary. This involves using transplanted grafts of skin, muscle, or bone from other parts of the body. Dental implants may be needed.
Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery are three treatment options.
Widespread cancer may be treated with chemotherapy as well as radiation therapy, especially if there is a significant chance of the cancer returning.
Chemotherapy involves using powerful medicines that damage the DNA of the cancer cells, undermining their ability to reproduce.
Chemotherapy medications can sometimes damage healthy tissue.
The following adverse effects may occur:
weakened immune system, increasing the risk of infection
These effects usually go away after finishing treatment.
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug therapy uses drugs known as monoclonal antibodies to change aspects of cancer cells that help them grow.
Cetuximab, or Erbitux, is used for some head and neck cancers. Targeted drugs may be combined with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.