A healthy body starts with a healthy mouth as it is a gateway to the overall health of the body and to stay healthy one needs to do self-monitoring tests regularly, ideally once a month to look for signs and symptoms that could be a sign of oral cancer. Any sudden growth, sore or plaque in the mouth that bleeds or lasts longer should be reported to a doctor immediately, as early detection is key in the fight against oral cancer.
Cancer that occurs inside the mouth (oral cavity), including the lips, base of the tongue, inside of the cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, tonsils , the vallecula and the pharynx (throat) is called cancer or cancer of the oral cavity. It is a type of cancer that is grouped under the category of head and neck cancer and when diagnosed early it is much easier for doctors to treat it but unfortunately many people wait until the disease progresses to effectively treat.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr. Ankit Mahuvakar, Head and Neck Onco-Surgeon at HCG Cancer Hospital, Mumbai, explained: “Oral cancer starts in the squamous cells, which are flat and, seen at the microscope, look like a fish scale. . Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common malignant tumor of the oral cavity. Excessive smoking and alcohol consumption are major risk factors for oral cancer. However, it can also occur in patients without known risk factors.
He added: “Most of the time mouth cancer looks like a common problem with the lips or mouth having white or red spots or bleeding sores. The only difference between a common problem and a potential cancer is that the latter does not go away within 2 weeks and if left untreated, it spreads to other parts. For example, if there is cancer in the cheeks that is not treated, it gradually spreads to the muscles, then to the skin, then to the bones, etc.
Dr Ankit Mahuvakar, said: “When cells on the lips or in the mouth develop changes (mutations) in their DNA, that’s when they continue to grow and divide and cause healthy cells to die. The accumulation of abnormal cells can form a tumour. Over time, this spreads inside the mouth. Typically, oral cancers start in flat, thin (scaly) cells that line the lips and inside the mouth. These are squamous cell carcinomas.
He warned: “Unhealthy habits such as excessive consumption of tobacco in cigarettes, pipes or chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol consumption increase the risk of contracting oral cancer. If the face and therefore the lips are exposed to the sun or if the person has a weakened immune system, the risks increase. Also, the sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) is an established risk factor for oropharyngeal cancers.
swelling or thickening, bumps or roughness or eroded areas on the lips, gums, cheeks or other areas inside the mouth
White or red patches in the mouth with a velvety appearance
unexplained bleeding in the mouth
numbness, loss of sensation, pain or tenderness in any area of the face, mouth or neck
persistent sores on the face, neck or mouth that bleed and do not heal within 2 weeks
Feeling that something is stuck in the back of the throat
Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
chronic sore throat or voice change
jaw or ear pain
Sudden weight loss
According to Dr Ankit Mahuvakar, “Oral cancer is preventable provided the individual takes an active role in reducing the risk of contracting it. People who have a habit of smoking or chewing tobacco should try to quit as this directly exposes the cells in the mouth to dangerous carcinogenic chemicals. Alcohol consumption should also be reduced as it can irritate the cells making them vulnerable to oral cancer. Drinking in moderation can help reduce the risk.
He advised: “The skin of the lips should be protected from sun exposure at all times. It is therefore advisable to wear a wide hat or carry an umbrella which will help to cover the face. Also, sunscreen lip products should be a daily routine for sun protection. Getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) is also necessary. Eating a balanced diet is the key to fighting any cancer. It is also important to visit a dentist regularly for a thorough full-mouth inspection to prevent precancerous changes.
Emphasizing that the treatment depends on the location, stage and type of cancer as well as the age and health of the patient, Dr Ankit Mahuvakar said: “Brachytherapy is used in the treatment of oral cancer . This includes, for example, the removal of part of the tongue or jaw or lymph nodes. These significantly alter the person’s appearance and ability to speak or eat. Detecting oral cancer early can reduce the chance that it will grow or spread further. This is possible by simply doing a monthly self-examination where the lips, the front of the gums and the roof of the mouth should be examined with the finger.
He revealed: “The neck and the area under the lower jaws should be examined for any masses or enlarged lymph nodes. Using a bright light and a mirror, the inside of the mouth should be examined. Also, by tilting the head slightly, it is necessary to observe the roof of the mouth. The cheeks should be drawn to see the inside of the mouth, the lining of the cheeks and behind the gums and the tongue should also be drawn to see if there are any changes up, down, on the sides or on the floor of the mouth.”
Oral health is equally important and it is not only about filling a cavity, but also the overall health of the individual. Doctors strive for both – the complete removal of cancer as well as the preservation of the appearance and functions of the mouth, what we need to do is to regularly check the inside of the mouth for any changes and report it immediately to doctors to prevent its spreading.
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