By Dr Yannopulos · Published July 22, 2018

Oral cancer - what you need to know

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Cancer can affect any part of the body. Cancer starts in the body when cells begin to multiply without control. This can spread to other parts of the body and the neighbouring tissues and organs can also get affected by cancer. Cells generally divide when there is a need to form new cells. But when cells become cancerous, this normal pattern of cell division becomes irregular. These abnormal cancerous cells may become accumulated in certain areas and form tumours. In the case of Oral cancer – this can be in any part of the mouth or in the neck region as well.

Cancer affects the human body in different ways. Oral cancer is one of them. This type of cancer can affect any part of the mouth. Usually they start in the cells on the surface of the mouth, tongue, and lips. It can also affect sinuses, hard and soft palate of the mouth and even throat. Anyone is susceptible to oral cancer, the statistics show that oral cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer and it is seen more in men than in women.


One of the features that is helpful in the case of Oral cancer is that it is easily visible to the human eye unlike other type of cancer that is not visible like stomach or brain cancer. For complete recovery from cancer, it is important that treatment begins right from the moment symptoms are noticed.

Checking with dentist’s or specialists when you notice some of the symptoms cited below is important. While all the symptoms need not always be oral cancer, it is best to get it checked if the symptoms do not go away in two weeks’ time. Some symptoms of oral cancer are:

  • Patches in the mouth- this can be red patches or white – these patches can be seen on the side of the mouth, beneath tongue. These patches will not go away with time or treatment.
  • A sore that persists, does not go away with treatment – this can be a small mouth sore, neck or face – this can bleed easily and does not heal easily.
  • Difficulty or pain while swallowing – uneasy feeling when swallowing, a slight pain or discomfort while eating or drinking is felt.
  • Lumps or swelling in the neck region, these can also be seen as rough patches in the mouth, face or neck.
  • Tenderness in either mouth, face or neck
  • Pain in the ear
  • Changes in the way dentures fit in your mouth – dentures which used to fit well, might not fit as well as before.

Causes of oral cancer

Studies show that men face the risk of getting oral cancer than women and generally it is men over 45 years of age who are seen at risk.

Some of the causes are:


Smoking is one of the major causes of oral cancer. People who smoke cigarettes or cigar have more chances of getting oral cancer than non-smokers.


Tobacco can also cause cancer. Chewing tobacco, betel nuts or using snuff also contributes to oral cancer. The symptoms are mostly seen on the lining of the mouth, cheek or gums.

Family history

Cancer is seen among family members, with cancer carrying genes being passed through generations. Those who have a family history of cancer are encouraged to go for check-ups and get treated on symptoms.

Other factors

Exposure to sun at a young age – affects the lips, and HPV virus also contributes to oral cancer. A person who has a low immune system and those who follow poor food diet are also at an increased risk of oral cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When you notice symptoms that are mentioned above, it is good that you check it with a dentist. Regular dental examination is also one of the ways to make sure none of the symptoms do not go unnoticed. If a dentist suspects, then oral cancer screening test will be conducted. Dentist will look for the symptoms mentioned earlier and if needed further specialised tests are conducted.

Oral cancer is treated in the same manner in which other cancers are treated. Surgery, Radiation therapy and Chemotherapy is done for treating oral cancer. Surgery is done to remove the cancerous growth from the oral area. Radiation is done to kill the cancerous cells and chemotherapy is done to make sure any cancerous cells are destroyed. This makes sure that any other cells which are infected are also destroyed.

If the cancer is detected in the early stages, then it requires only radiation therapy. Sometimes, it can be combined with chemotherapy. Combination of treatment is effective.

Some of the side effects of the treatment includes dry mouth and tooth decay. Damage to jaw bone structure and jaw stiffness are also experienced by some. Some have reported mouth sores and bleeding in the mouth. You can check with your specialist on how to manage these side effects.

It is also important that after treatment commences, one should make changes to one’s habits. If you have the habit of tobacco use – be it smoking, chewing, or snuff then it is important to stop it. Tobacco usage makes treatment less effective and healing takes a longer time. The chances of recurrence of cancer also increases if one continues using tobacco. Similar is the effect of alcohol consumption, which needs to be stopped as well.

Studies have shown that both tobacco and alcohol are carcinogenic and can cause destruction of the cells and promote cancer in them. Smoking and tobacco products do not cause only oral cancer, they are known to cause liver cancer and oesophageal cancer as well.

Following a healthy diet by including lot of fruits and vegetables in every day meal is very important. The antioxidants in them help reduce the risk of oral cancer.