Oral cancer

Oral Cancer
Last year, Sraddha Chamling knew something wasn’t quite right in her mouth, yet she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. During a routine dental check-up, the dentist could.

She had an ulcer on her tongue during October. The first biopsy came back fine and the diagnosis was an allergy. But by the end of 2019, it hadn’t gone away and she needed to get a crown replaced, so she bit the bullet and visited a dentist. It turned out to be a real lifesaver. The second biopsy showed signs of mouth cancer. Within weeks, she was under the knife, an operation she described as ‘remarkable’.

After the successful surgery, Sraddha went through six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Currently, Sraddha has no recurrence of the disease. In her words, she’s ‘just getting on with life’. Without early detection, a key factor in the fight to reduce mouth cancer mortality rates, she wouldn’t have had the chance to do so.

Oral cancer: An Overview

Oral cancers make up a part of the gamut of cancers referred to as head and neck cancers. Of all head and neck cancers, they comprise 85% of that category. Brain cancer, however, is not included in the head and neck cancer category.

Some Common Symptoms

The most common symptom of oral cancer is a sore in the mouth that refuses to heal. Other symptoms also include:

  • A lump in the mouth, throat, or on the lip
  • A white or red patch on the tongue, gums or lining of the mouth
  • Pain, numbness or bleeding in the mouth
  • A sore throat that doesn’t heal
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing or chewing
  • Jaw swelling
  • Hoarseness in the voice
  • Pain in the ear


Chain smokers and regular drinkers should be examined for head and neck cancer at least once annually. This is a 10-minute procedure that includes looking in the nose, mouth and throat; examining skin on the head and neck region and feeling lumps in the neck.

If cancer is suspected, the doctor may use mirrors and a lighted tube to examine hard-to-see areas. Your doctor may also suggest other tests. If a suspicious area is found, the doctor may conduct a biopsy for signs of cancer.

Who Gets Oral Cancer

Men encounter twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women and men over the age of 50 face the greatest risks. Risk factors of oral cancer include the following:

  • Smoking. Cigarette or pipe smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancers.
  • Smokeless tobacco users. Users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the gums, cheeks and lining of lips.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol. Oral cancers are six times more common among drinkers than in non-drinkers.
  • Family history of cancer
  • Excessive sun exposure at a young age.
  • Some HPV strains are risk factors for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC)

It is essential to note that more than 25% of oral cancers occur in individuals who do not smoke and drink alcohol only occasionally.

Coping with Oral Cancer

Many people feel depressed and/or stressed when dealing with cancer. Undergoing cancer treatment can be hard. Keep talking with your specialist about any concerns you have. Here are some additional tips:

  • Talk with your family and friends
  • Ask your healthcare team for help
  • Speak to a counsellor
  • Seek therapy if need be
  • Be socially active

How is Oral Cancer Treated

Treatment for oral cancer will vary depending on the type, location, and stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

Treatment for early stages involves surgery to remove the tumour and cancerous lymph nodes. Besides, other tissue around the mouth and neck may be taken out.

Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy is another option. This involves a doctor aiming radiation beams at the tumour once or twice a day, five days a week, for two to eight weeks. Treatment for advanced stages will usually involve a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy is a treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells. The medicine is given to you either orally or through an intravenous (IV) line. Most people get chemotherapy on an outpatient basis, although some require hospitalization.

Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy is another form of treatment, which can be effective in the early and advanced stages of cancer. Targeted therapy drugs will bind to specific proteins on cancer cells and interfere with their growth.

Nutrition is an important part of oral cancer treatment. Discuss your diet with your doctor. Getting the advice of a nutritionist can help you plan a food menu that will be gentle on your mouth and throat and will provide your body with all the nutrition it needs to heal.

Keep your mouth healthy
Keeping your mouth healthy during cancer treatments is necessary. Ensure that your mouth is moist and your teeth and gums are clean.

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