Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth or throat. You are at a high risk of oral cancer if you are a male aged 40 years and above, with heavy tobacco and alcohol consumption, and/or a history of cancer in the head or neck. Right from an earache to bleeding in the mouth to lose teeth, symptoms of oral cancer are many. Today we will discuss the 10 must-know facts about oral cancer.
Oral cancer is the eleventh most common cancer worldwide. It is the most common cancer in India, as 4 in 10 of all cancers are oral cancers. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation of India, 130,000 people succumb to oral cancer in India annually which translates into approximately 14 deaths per hour.
The primary reason for high prevalence of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) in India is the genetic alteration owing to chronic irritation and nitrosamines released from chewable tobacco, in the form of betel quid, gutka, snuff or misri.
The use of tobacco (in various forms, including both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) in association with excess alchohol intake (3 ounces or more in a day) increases the risk of cancer manifold. Chances of developing oral cancer are greater in immunosuppressed people (like HIV-infected and transplant patients).
High exposure to ultraviolet light increases the risk of developing cancer of the lower lip. Inadequate levels of vitamins A and C, vegetables and fruits in the diet may also contribute to the chances of developing oral cancer.
Oral cancer typically presents itself as a non-healing ulcer or exophytic growth, which may be associated with pain, occasional bleeding and surrounding induration (hardening around an area). The lesion may be red, white or pink in color.
Oral cancer is commonly found after the fourth decade of life. However, the recent upsurge in the incidence of the cancer in young adults (predominantly males), and its poor prognosis despite being readily accessible are disturbing facts.
Oral cancer is curable. The results of the treatment, however, depend on the stage of the disease and the metastasis. Metastasis is the spread of the tumor from its primary site to other parts of the body. The presence of lymph node metastases reduces the prognosis or survival rate by 50%. This is the reason why early detection of oral cancer is very important.
Oral cancer spreads in the body through the lymphatic system, affecting the cervical (neck) lymph nodes to begin with. Chances of lymph node metastasis are 20-30% in early stage cancers (Stage I and II), while it rises to 60-70% in advanced stages (III and IV). Distant metastasis may involve (in order of probability): lung, bone, liver, GIT, brain, skin and kidneys.
Several studies have raised concerns about the possible carcinogenic properties of mouthrinses with significant alchohol content. Although no direct cause-and-effect relationship has been firmly established, it is prudent to exercise caution and avoid excessive use of mouthrinses with high alchohol content.
To prevent oral cancer, don’t ignore any non-healing ulcer, growth or patch on your oral mucosa, gums or tongue. Anything that causes chronic irritation to the mucosa can be a cause of cancer (be it a tobacco usage, ill-fitting dentures or even a broken filling with sharp edges).