By Dr. Dale D Rodrigues, Surgical Oncology
Mouth or oral cancer is a type of cancer that may affect any part of mouth and occurs mostly in the tongue, the tissue lining the mouth and gums, inside the cheeks, area of the mouth underneath the tongue called the floor, roof of the mouth, lips, at the back of the throat affecting the tonsils and salivary glands. It is more common in people aged 40 years and above and affects more men than women.
Mouth cancers are termed as squamous cell carcinoma which means cancer generally starts in the squamous cells of the lips and mouth. Certain factors increase the risk of contracting mouth or oral cancer. Tobacco and alcohol are the primary reasons for mouth cancer. Other factors responsible for mouth cancer include HPV (human papillomavirus) infection, chewing betel leaves and nuts, exposure to ultraviolet rays, a diet rich in red meat, processed foods and GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux) which makes acid from the stomach come back up to the esophagus. The most important thing to remember with regard to mouth cancer is that you should be observant of symptoms like bumps, sore, swelling and patches surrounding your mouth and lip region. Here is a list of symptoms of mouth cancer that you should watch out for:
1. Patches that look red or white in colour or a mix of both- These can occur in your tongue, lining of your mouth, gums and tonsils. The skin may appear thicker or nodular with the tendency to turn into an ulcer or lesion. The important thing to note is the colour and consistency of the lesions. If it is a mix of red and white patches, then the collection of patches is generally termed as erythroleukoplakia that is defined as abnormal cell growth which can turn malignant. If your patches are red in colour and are velvety in texture, then they are referred to as erythroplakia. In most cases, erythroplakia turn into cancer.
However, if your patches are white or greyish in colour, then it is called leukoplakia or keratosis. Factors like broken teeth, rough tooth or the use of tobacco lead to this type of patches in the mouth. Moreover, the habit of biting the inside of your cheeks or lips or exposure to carcinogenic substance also may lead to leukoplakia. The patches are mostly rough and hard and develop across a longer period.
2. Sores or canker sores- Sores generally occur inside your mouth underneath the tongue or your gums behind the back of your teeth. However, canker sores generally sting, burn or tingle. These resemble ulcers with the colours ranging from white, grey, yellow to red. They are very painful but are not malignant in nature. They often heal within two weeks but if they persist, you should go for an evaluation.
3. Other symptoms- Difficulty when swallowing food, loosing teeth, jaw pain or stiffness in the jaw, sore throat, painful tongue, hoarse voice and persistent pain in the neck or ear, can be indicative of mouth cancer.
It is better to get yourself checked if you are facing any of the above symptoms and undergo treatment immediately. Treatment will generally be surgical in nature but can also consist of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.