Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth and throat (larynx). Cancer is defined as the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. This abnormal collection of mutated cells can form a tumor. Oral cancer originates in the mouth and throat, but has the ability to spread to other parts of the body.
The Mayo Clinic states, “mouth cancers most commonly begin in the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) that line your lips and the inside of your mouth. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.”
-Squamous cell carcinoma: More than 90% of cancers that occur in the oral cavity and oropharynx are of the squamous cell carcinoma type. Normally, the throat and mouth are lined with squamous cells, which are flat and arranged in a scale-like way. Squamous cell carcinoma means that some squamous cells are abnormal.
-Verrucous carcinoma: About 5% of all oral cavity tumors are verrucous carcinoma, which is a type of very slow-growing cancer made up of squamous cells. This type of oral cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but can invade the tissue surrounding the site of origin.
-Minor salivary gland carcinomas: This category includes several kinds of oral cancer that can develop on the minor salivary glands, which are found throughout the lining of the mouth and throat. These types include adenoid cystic carcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma, and polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma.
-Lymphomas: Oral cancers that develop in lymph tissue, which is part of the immune system, are known as lymphomas. The tonsils and base of the tongue both contain lymphoid tissue. See our pages on Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma for cancer information related to lymphomas in the oral cavity.
-Benign oral cavity and oropharyngeal tumors: Several types of non-cancerous tumors and tumor-like conditions can arise in the oral cavity and throat. Sometimes, these non cancerous conditions may develop into oral cancer. For this reason, benign tumors, which usually do not recur, are often removed surgically.
-Leukoplakia and erythroplakia: With leukoplakia, a white area can be seen, and with erythroplakia, there is a red area, flat or slightly raised, that often bleeds when scraped. Both conditions may be precancerous; that is, they can develop into different types of cancer. When these conditions occur, a biopsy or other test is done to determine whether the cells are cancerous. About 25% of cases of leukoplakia are either cancerous when first discovered or become precancerous. Erythroplakia is usually more serious, with about 70% of cases cancerous either at the time of diagnosis or later.
What Causes Oral Cancer
Doctors and researchers are not entirely sure exactly what causes oral cancer, but they have found links that put some people more at risk.
-HPV (human papilloma virus): Contact with HPV 16 (a sexually transmitted disease) has been linked to certain oral cancers.
-Age: Oral cancer risk increases with age; and is predominantly seen in people over the age of 40.
-Tobacco: The majority of cancer cases are associated with tobacco use, specifically cigarette smoking.
-Alcohol: Heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of oral cancer and those risks are even greater when use of alcohol and smoking cigarettes are combined.
-Diet: A diet that lacks proper nutrition such as vegetables and fruits can increase the risk of oral cancer (as well as all types of cancer).
-Exposure To Sun: Lip cancer can been caused by exposure to the sun.
Classic Oral Cancer Symptoms
-Persistent sore throat that does not go away.
-Lump in lining of mouth.
-White or reddish patch inside mouth or on the lips.
-Tongue pain or numbness.
-A feeling that something is caught in your throat (even when nothing is there).
Oral Cancer Screening By Your Dentist
Your dentist should routinely screen for oral cancer during dental examinations at least twice a year. A thorough manual and visual examination should be performed. Your dentist will feel for lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, cheeks and oral cavity, and thoroughly examines the soft tissues in your mouth, specifically looking for any changes such as sores or discolored tissues. The use of the Velscope oral cancer screening system has been proven to diagnose precancerous as well as cancerous changes in the tissue as early as possible to give you the best chance for recovery and long term survival from oral cancer.
Oral Cancer Treatment
If during your dental examination, your dentist finds anything out of the ordinary or suspicious they will recommend that you have a biopsy performed of that area. The biopsy of the lesion will be used to confirm the diagnosis of cancer. If it is confirmed that you do indeed have oral cancer you will probably be referred to an oral surgeon for removal of the tumors. Radiation or chemotherapy may be also used in the course of your oral cancer treatment.
Oral Cancer Conclusion
If you have any concerns about your oral health or have any of the warning signs listed above, see your dentist immediately. As in any disease, an early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in long term survival. Survival rates greatly increase the earlier oral cancer is discovered and treated. So be vigilant and, even if you do not have any warning signs, visit your dentist for routine oral cancer screenings.