Oral cancer is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells of the lips, mouth, gums, tongue and throat. Most oral cancers are a type of carcinoma, called squamous cell carcinoma, which tends to spread quickly. Each year, thousands of Canadians are diagnosed with oral cancer.
Generally, patients are referred to a medical professional, such as a general practitioner, upon diagnosis of oral cancer. The practitioner will determine the appropriate treatment plan. Surgery to remove the tumour is usually recommended if the tumour is small enough. Surgery may be used together with radiation therapy and chemotherapy for larger tumours. Surgery is not commonly done if cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck. Other treatments may include speech therapy or other therapy to improve movement, chewing, swallowing, and speech.
Approximately half of the people with oral cancer will live more than 5 years after they are diagnosed and treated. If the cancer is found early, before it has spread to other tissues, the cure rate is nearly 90%. However, more than half of oral cancers have already spread when the cancer is detected. Most have spread to the throat or neck. About 1 in 4 persons with oral cancer dies because of delayed diagnosis and treatment.
Although the actual cause of oral cancer is unknown, most oral cancer cases can be attributed to smoking and other tobacco use. Some other factors that may increase one’s risk of developing oral cancer include heavy alcohol consumption (it is especially dangerous to combine smoking and alcohol), prolonged, repeated exposure of the lips to the sun, poor diet; genetics and gender (more men develop the disease than women) chronic irritation (such as from rough teeth, dentures, or fillings), and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Some ways to help prevent oral cancer include seeing your dentist regularly for dental exams and asking about oral cancer screenings, stop using tobacco products, limiting alcohol consumption, limiting sun exposure and using U/V protective lip balm, eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, checking your mouth regularly for signs or symptoms and reporting any changes in your mouth to your dentist right away.