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Dentist Explaining Tooth X-Rays To A Patient.

Facts About Oral or Mouth Cancer

Dentist Explaining Tooth X-Rays To A Patient.

Oral or mouth cancer is a broad term applying to cancer affecting the interior of the mouth. The most common type of cancer of the head and neck, oral or mouth cancer affects the lips, roof and floor of the mouth and the first portion of the tongue; it also affects the oropharynx, which includes the last portion of the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the back and sides of the throat and the tonsils. Oral or mouth cancer can impact the mouth and oropharynx. Cancer affecting the oropharynx is known as oropharyngeal cancer. Typically, oral or mouth cancer impacts people 60 years of age and older.

Without treatment, oral or mouth cancer can spread throughout your throat and mouth and, eventually, to other parts of your neck and head. Around 37 percent of those diagnosed with oral or mouth cancer don’t survive the next five years following diagnosis.

How Oral or Mouth Cancer Appears

Oral or mouth cancer can appear as lingering white patches or red patches on your lips or in your mouth or lip or mouth sores that bleed easily. If these symptoms go away within a couple of weeks, they may be some other common issue, but, if they last for more than two weeks, they may indicate oral or mouth cancer.

Causes of Oral or Mouth Cancer

Oral cancer begins in the squamous cells located in your oral cavity or oropharynx. These are flat cells that, when seen beneath a microscope, resemble a fish’s scales. When the DNA of normal squamous cells changes and those cells start growing and multiplying, they become cancerous. Over time, they can spread to other parts of the head or neck or other parts of the body.

How Oral or Mouth Cancer Affects the Body

Common effects of oral or mouth cancer include many symptoms you may mistake for a common problem, such as a patch in your mouth you can’t scrape off. Symptoms such as these and the ones that follow may be precancerous:

  • Leukoplakia – Flat gray or white patches in the mouth or throat
  • Erythroplakia – Flat and slightly raised red patches that may bleed if scraped
  • Erythroleukoplakia – Patches of both red and white

How Healthcare Providers Diagnose Oral or Mouth Cancer

During a routine dental exam, your Virginia dentist might notice signs of possible oral or mouth cancer. They may, then, order preliminary tests to verify their findings or refer you to a maxillofacial surgeon or neck and head surgeon, also known as ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists. Tests you might receive to confirm a potential oral or mouth cancer diagnosis include:

  • Physical exam – Your provider will examine the interior of your mouth in its entirety and may feel around in your mouth as well. Additionally, they’ll examine your face, head and neck for possible indications of cancer or pre-cancer.
  • Brush biopsy – Also known as exfoliative cytology or a scrape biopsy, in this test, your providers will use a small spatula or brush to scrape the suspicious area gently in order to collect cells to examine for cancer.
  • Incisional biopsy – Your provider will remove little tissue samples to acquire cells to examine for cancer.
  • Indirect pharyngoscopy and laryngoscopy – Your provider will look at your throat, a portion of your larynx commonly known as your voice box and the base of your tongue, all using a mirror on a thin, long handle.
  • Flexible, or direct, laryngoscopy and pharyngoscopy – Your provider may look at portions of your mouth and throat using an endoscope, or a flexible, thin tube with a viewing lens and light attached, that otherwise could not be seen using mirrors.

Types of Surgery That Treat Oral or Mouth Cancer

The surgeries most commonly performed to treat oral or mouth cancer are:

  • Glossectomy – A total or partial tongue removal
  • Mandibulectomy – For oral or mouth cancer in the jawbone
  • Maxillectomy – Removal of all or part of the hard palate
  • Neck dissection: Removal of lymph nodes from the neck
  • Primary tumor surgery – Removing tumors via your mouth or a neck incision
  • Reconstruction – Follows the removal of large portions of tissue by filling gaps the tumor has left behind or replacing portions of the tongue, lips, jaw or palate or by taking healthy tissue and bone from other spots in the body
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy – A surgical test to indicate whether oral or mouth cancer has spread elsewhere in the body

Non-surgical Treatment Options for Oral or Mouth Cancer

  • Radiation therapy – Use of strong energy beams to eliminate cancer cells or prevent their growth.
  • Targeted therapy – Use of medications or other substances to detect and attack specific kinds of cancer cells with precision so as not to harm normal cells. One type of targeted therapy is a type of immune system protein called Monoclonal antibodies that are laboratory-created and have the ability to treat cancer.
  • Chemotherapy – Use of anti-cancer medications that affect most of your body to kill all cancer cells everywhere in the body at once.
  • Immunotherapy – Engaging your immune system to treat the cancer, also known as biological therapy.

Outlook and Prognosis for Living With Oral or Mouth Cancer

Your recovery may be more or less intense depending on a variety of factors, including the extensiveness of the treatment and whether any surgery was involved. In some patients, for example, all that may have been necessary was to remove the tumor from the lip or cheek; in other patients, extensive reconstructive surgery may have been required. In this example, the latter patient would obviously have a longer recovery period. In either case, however, both patients would need to make regular follow-up visits to their dentist to make sure treatment was progressing as expected and no cancer has returned.

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