Oral cancer is part of a group of cancers called head and neck cancers. Oral cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity or oropharynx. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth. Almost all oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas. When oral cancer spreads (metastasizes), it usually travels through the lymphatic system. Cancer cells that enter the lymphatic system are carried along by lymph, a clear, watery fluid. The cancer cells often appear first in nearby lymph nodes in the neck.
Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the neck, the lungs, and other parts of the body. When this happens, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells as the primary tumor. For example, if oral cancer spreads to the lungs, the cancer cells in the lungs are actually oral cancer cells. The disease is metastatic oral cancer, not lung cancer. It is treated as oral cancer, not lung cancer.
Oral cancer happens when there is something wrong or unusual in the normal cell lifecycle. This abnormal working of the cell lifecycle results in uncontrollable growth and reproduction of these cells.
Some of the risk factors for Oral Cancer include:
- Tobacco use
- Heavy alcohol use
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection
- High levels of sun or ultraviolet (UV) light exposure
- Personal history of oral cancer
- Betel quid and gutka use
- Diets low in fruits and vegatables
- Weakened immune system.
- Abnormal patches inside the mouth or on your lips
- Sore on the lip or in the mouth that doesn’t heal
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Difficulty wearing dentures
- A lump in your neck
- An earache that doesn’t go away
- Numbness of lower lip and chin.
How to diagnose Oral Cancer.
- Biopsy : A small tissue sample is taken in biopsy that is further sent to a laboratory for determining the type of cells and whether they are cancerous or non-cancerous.
- Throat and Mouth Examination : A special instrument known as flexible laryngoscope is used for viewing within the throat and mouth.
Certain other tests are also required for determining the spread of the cancer.
- A Barium Swallow and Meal Test : This test requires a patient to swallow a drink having barium. An x-ray will present images of abnormal growths in the digestive system down to the stomach.
- X-rays : X-rays are done of the lower and upper jaw or a chest x-ray can also be done.
- Endoscopy : This test helps in viewing the body from within. An endoscope (a narrow and flexible tube having a telescopic camera) is used for performing this test.
- Certain other biopsies of nearby lymph nodes are also done.
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