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Oral Cancer: Mouth, Throat and Neck Cancers

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2019/08/13

Synopsis: Mouth cancer refers to cancer that develops in any portion of the mouth such as on the lips, tongue, gums, inside lining of the cheek, the floor or roof of the mouth. Mouth cancer is one of a number of forms of cancer grouped into a category called, 'head and neck cancers.' Many throat cancer symptoms are not specific to cancer, your doctor will advise you further.

Main Document

'Mouth cancer,' refers to cancer that develops in any portion of a person's mouth. Mouth cancer may occur on a person's lips, tongue, gums, inside lining of their cheeks, the floor or roof of a person's mouth. Cancer that occurs on the inside of the mouth is at times referred to as, 'oral cancer,' or, 'oral cavity cancer.'

Mouth cancer is one of a number of forms of cancer grouped into a category called, 'head and neck cancers.' Mouth cancer and other head and neck cancers are many times treated in a similar fashion. Mouth cancer has a number of symptoms associated with it, such as:

Causes

Mouth cancer occurs when cells on a person's lips or in their mouth develop mutations in their DNA. The mutations allow cancer cells to grow and divide when cells that are healthy would die. The accumulating mouth cancer cells may form a tumor. Over a period of time, they might spread to additional areas of a person's mouth and on to other areas of their neck and head, or other parts of the person's body.

Mouth cancers most often start in the flat and thin cells that line a person's lips and the inside of their mouth. The majority of oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. It is not clear what causes the mutations in squamous cells that lead to mouth cancer, yet doctors have identified factors that might increase someone's risk of mouth cancer.

Types

Oral cancer awareness ribbon consisting of three colors; Lilac which is the universal color of Dentistry or Oral Stomatology, White and Red representing Leukoplakia and Erythroplakia (white and red spots respectively) which predominantly considered as tissue manifestation seen in most of the oral pre-malignancy (cancer) conditions - Awareness ribbon design credit: Arturo P. De Leon, DMD, MAEd, FPPS; Dean of College of Dentistry, Our Lady of Fatima University. Current President Philippine Association of Dental Colleges.
Oral cancer awareness ribbon consisting of three colors; Lilac which is the universal color of Dentistry or Oral Stomatology, White and Red representing Leukoplakia and Erythroplakia (white and red spots respectively) which predominantly considered as tissue manifestation seen in most of the oral pre-malignancy (cancer) conditions - Awareness ribbon design credit: Arturo P. De Leon, DMD, MAEd, FPPS; Dean of College of Dentistry, Our Lady of Fatima University. Current President Philippine Association of Dental Colleges.

'Mouth cancer,' is a general term that applies to cancers that occur on a person's lips and throughout their mouth. Terms for these forms of cancer that are more specific include the following:

Initial Cancer Site:

Risk Factors

Some different risk factors for mouth cancer exist. Risk factors that can increase a person's chance of getting mouth cancer include:

Throat Cancer Symptoms

Questions Your Doctor May Ask

If you notice any new signs and symptoms that are persistent make an appointment with your doctor or health-care provider. Many throat cancer symptoms are not specific to cancer, your doctor will advise you further. A doctor is likely to ask a person with mouth cancer several questions. Being ready to answer these questions might allow more time later to cover points an affected person wants to address. For example, a doctor might ask:

It is important to avoid doing things that worsen your signs and symptoms. If you experience pain in your mouth, avoid spicy foods or hard foods that might cause additional irritation. If you are having difficulties with eating due to pain, consider drinking nutritional supplement drinks. The drinks can provide the nutrition you require until you can meet with your doctor or dentist.

Tests and Diagnosis

A couple of different tests are available to diagnose mouth cancer. These tests and procedures include the following:

Stages of Mouth Cancer

After a person has been diagnosed with mouth cancer, a doctor works to determine the stage or extent of the mouth cancer. Mouth cancer staging tests might include:

Stages of mouth cancer are indicated using Roman numerals I through IV. A lower stage indicates a smaller cancer confined to one area. A higher stage, such as stage IV, indicates a larger tumor, or that cancer has spread to additional areas of the person's neck, head, or other parts of their body. A person's cancer stage helps their doctor to determine the person's treatment options.

Throat Cancer Survival Rate

The survival rate for throat cancer is dependent on the stage of the cancer by the time it was diagnosed and also depends on the overall health status of the patient and the response to treatment.

Treatments and Medications

Treatment for mouth cancer is dependent upon the cancer's stage and location, as well as the person's overall health and their personal preferences. The person might have only one type of treatment, or they may undergo a combination of cancer treatments. It is important for the person to discuss their options with their doctor.

Bear in mind that surgery carries with it a risk of infection and bleeding. Surgery for mouth cancer often times affects a person's appearance, as well as their ability to eat, swallow, or speak. A doctor might refer the person to a specialist who can assist the person with coping with the changes.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams such as X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be delivered from a machine outside of the person's body, or from radioactive, 'seeds,' and wires placed near to the person's cancer. Radiation therapy may be the only treatment a person receives if they have an early-stage mouth cancer.

Radiation therapy can also be used following surgery. In other instances, radiation therapy might be combined with chemotherapy. The combination increases the effectiveness of radiation therapy, yet also increases the side-effects the person may experience. In instances of advanced mouth cancer, radiation therapy might help to relieve the signs and symptoms caused by the cancer such as pain. Side-effects of radiation therapy to a person's mouth may include:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered alone, in combination with other chemotherapy drugs, or in combination with other types of cancer treatments. Chemotherapy might increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy, so the two are often combined. Side-effects of chemotherapy depend on which drug the person receives. Common side-effects include nausea, vomiting and loss of hair.

Targeted Drug Therapy

Targeted drugs treat mouth cancer by altering specific aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth. 'Cetuximab,' is one targeted drug therapy that has been approved for the treatment of neck and head cancers in some situations. Cetuximab stops the action of a protein that is found in a number of types of healthy cells, but is more prevalent in some types of cancer cells. Additional targeted drugs are being studied in clinical trials. Targeted drugs may be used in combination with radiation or chemotherapy.

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