Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Oral Cancer

If you observe swelling, lumps or bumps or rough spots in your gums, or other areas in your mouth, persistent sores on the face, chronic sore throat,  then you are suffering from Oral Cancer.

The uncontrollable growth of cells in our body that invades and causes damage to the surrounding tissues is called Cancer.

Cancer causes cells to divide uncontrollably and results in the tumor, damage to the immune system other impairments.

It can occur anywhere in your body and cause damage to the whole body.

Some types of cancer cause rapid cell generation while other cause cells to grow and divide at a slow rate.

Cancerous cells may appear in one area of your body, then spread through the lymph nodes. However, lymph nodes are present in our body which is part of the immune system.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is also termed Mouth cancer. It affects the lining of the lips, mouth, or upper throat.

Oral Cancer appears as growth or sore in the mouth. However, it does not go away.

It includes cancer of lips, tongue, cheeks, the floor of your mouth, hard and soft palate, sinus, and pharynx (throat). Moreover, it might appear as a white or red patch.

This disease can be life-threatening if you do not get treatment early.

It is one of the several types of cancer that groups in a category of head and neck cancers and are given treatment in the same way as others of this group.

In some cases, it can lead to Oropharyngeal Cancer.

Oropharyngeal cancer also termed oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma and tonsil cancer, in which the cells abnormally grow and can spread to other parts of the body.

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Causes of Oral Cancer

Men face twice the risk of getting Oral Cancer than women. Especially, men who are over the age of 50 face the greatest risk.

Some causes of Oral Cancer are as follows:

Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipe smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop this cancer. In case, either of your parents or both your parents suffer from cancer, you have a risk of developing cancer.

Users of dip, snuff or chewing tobacco products are more likely to develop cancer of the cheeks, gums, or lining of the lips.



Excessive sun exposure especially at a young age can cause this type of cancer. Certain Human Papillomavirus (HPV) strains are etiologic risk factors.

However, it is also important to note that over 25% of the patients are those who do not smoke.

Mouth cancer forms due to mutations in the cells of the lips or in the mouth. These mutations cause the cells to grow rapidly and divide when healthy cells divide.

These abnormal mouth cancer cells form a tumor and with time it spreads within the mouth or to other areas of the head or neck or to other parts of the body.

They commonly appear as flat, thin cells that line your lips and insides of your mouth.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer include:

A sore on your lip or mouth that does not go with time, abnormal growth in your mouth, and loss of teeth and appear as a white or red patch.

Pain or difficulty swallowing in the mouth, trouble wearing dentures, a lump in your neck or throat.

Dramatic or sudden weight loss, earache, numbness in parts of your head like the lower lip, face, neck, or chin, patches on your face, or parts of the face.

Sore throat, jaw pain and stiffness, and tongue pain are the symptoms of Oral Cancer.

Moreover, due to excess sun exposure, can increase the risk of this cancer. You can suffer from Squamous Cell Carcinoma which is usually found on areas of the body damaged by UV rays from the sun or tanning beds.

Unlike other types of skin cancer, it can spread to the tissues, bones, and nearby lymph nodes, where it may become hard to treat

Sore throat or an earache can indicate other conditions.

However, it is important that your doctor diagnose it in comparison to the diseases as well.

If you notice any symptoms and they do not tend to go away or you may notice more than one symptom and signs at a time, then you should consult your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.

symptoms of Oral Cancer

It can moreover lead to tumors in Salivary Glands and Oral Cavities Cancer. Therefore, tumors in the salivary and oral cavity can increase the risk of developing this cancer.

It can affect either one of the salivary glands, however, the oral cavity cancer begins with tumors or benign in the cavities of your teeth.

How Is It Diagnosed?

During your visit to the doctor, they will first perform a physical examination of the roof and floor of your mouth, back of your throat, tongue, and cheeks, and the lymph nodes in your neck.

Moreover, your doctor will look for the signs and symptoms of Oropharyngeal cancer in your oral cavity.

Your doctor may refer you to an ENT specialist if they are unable to diagnose or determine why you are having your symptoms.

However, if your doctor finds any tumors, growths, or suspicious lesions in your mouth,  they will perform a brush biopsy or a tissue biopsy.

A Tissue Biopsy is a painless procedure that collects cells from the tumor by brushing them into a slide and then your doctor will send them to the lab for tests.

However, a Tissue Biopsy involves removing a piece of the tissue so your doctor can examine it under a microscope for the identification of cancerous cells.

Diagnosis of Oral CancerIn addition to physical examination and biopsy, your doctor may perform one or more of the following tests to diagnose the problem. These are:

  • X-rays to see if cancer cells have spread to your jaw, chest, or lungs
  • CT Scan to reveal any tumors in your mouth, next, or throat.
  • a PET Scan to determine whether cancer has traveled to the lymph nodes or other organs of your body
  • MRI to show an accurate image of your head and neck and determine the exact stage of the cancer
  • Endoscopy to determine the nasal passages, sinus, inner throat, windpipe, and trachea

Determining the Extent of The Cancer

After the diagnosis, your doctor works to determine the extent or stage f your cancer. The staging tests may include:

Endoscopy: During this procedure, your doctor will pass a small, flexible camera with a light down into your throat to look for certain signs that indicate that cancer may have spread beyond your mouth.

Testing includes X-ray, CT Scan, MRI, etc. However, it is important to note that not everyone needs each test. Your doctor will determine what test you might need and it depends on your condition.

Doctors indicate mouth cancer in roman numerals for instance stage I cancer indicates a smaller cancer confined to one area.

Image Testing

However, a higher stage is indicated by Stage IV and indicates that cancer has spread to other areas of the head or neck or to other parts of the body.

The stage of the cancer help determines the treatment options for you.

Stages of Oral Cancer

There are four stages of Oral Cancer. These are:

In this stage, the tumor is about 2 cm or smaller in size and it has not spread to the lymph nodes. This is Stage I.

In Stage II, the tumor is about 2-4 cm, which shows it has not spread to the lymph node.

The tumor is either larger than 4 cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes or is of any size and has spread to one lymph node but not to the rest of them. This is Stage III.

In Stage IV, the tumor is of varying size and it has spread to the nearby tissues, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body.

According to National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rates of oral and pharynx cancer are as follows:

  • 83 percent for localized cancer or the one that is in the early stages
  • 64 percent that has spread to the nearby lymph nodes
  • 38 percent that has spread to other parts of the body

60 percent of the people with oral cancer survive for 5 years or more. There are higher chances of survival if the doctor diagnoses it in the early stages.

In fact, with stage I and II oral cancer, the survival rate is usually 70-90%. Therefore, timely diagnosis and treatment are very important.

Treatment Options

Treatment for Oral Cancer depends on the size, location, and stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis.

The treatment options are as follows:

Surgery: This procedure may include:

Removal of The Tumor: The surgeon may cut away the tumor and a margin of health tissues surround it. This procedure ensures the removal of cancerous cells from your mouth.

They can remove smaller cancers with this procedure. However, larger ones require an extensive procedure. For instance, it may involve removing a section of your jaw bone or portion of your tongue.

Removal from the Lymphy Nodes: In case the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes of your neck or the depth of your cancer is bigger, your surgeon will remove the lymph nodes and related tissues in your neck.


Treatment Plan for Oral Cancer

This dissection removes any cancer cells that have spread to the lymph nodes of your neck and is useful to determine whether you need additional surgery or not.

Constructive Surgery: After the removal of cancerous cells your surgeon may recommend reconstructive surgery to rebuild your mouth that will help you regain the ability to talk and eat.

This Procedure includes the transplant of a bone from other parts of your body to carry out this procedure.

They can also use dental implants to replace your natural teeth.

Surgery carries a risk of excessive bleeding and infection, moreover, it also affects your appearance.

Radiation Therapy: This process uses high-energy beams such as X-rays and protons that will kill the cancerous cells.

It uses a machine that delivers that radiation, though it can also come from radioactive beams and wires that your doctor will place near the neck.

If you have early-stage cancer, then your doctor will use only this procedure, however, if you have surgery, they will carry out the procedure afterward.

In some cases, they may combine both of the treatments that increase its effectiveness but it also increases the side effects you may experience.

The side effects include dry mouth, tooth decay and cavities, and damage to our jaw bone. However, if you have unhealthy teeth, they may remove them through the process of Tooth Extraction.

Chemotherapy: This treatment kills the cancerous cells, however, your doctor can also administer it with drugs.

They might be used in combination with other drugs or with other treatments. Chemotherapy also increases the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

Side effects depend on the drugs you are receiving.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. You can also ask your doctor and discuss with them the effects of chemotherapy.

Drug Therapy: These drugs treat cancer by altering the specific aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth.

Your doctor may use them alone or in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Erbitux is the common drug to treat Oral Cancer as it stops the action of a protein that is found in many types of healthy cells.

Common side effects may include skin rash, itching, headache, diarrhea, and infections.

Immunotherapy: This uses your immune system to fight the cells of cancer.

This therapy works by interfering with the process of your body’s disease-fighting immune system by not attacking the cells in your body.


Drug Therapy-Oral Cancer

Treatment of Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The treatment options for Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma primarily include surgery of the entire tumor in case of early stages.

in case, the tumor has spread to other tissues or nearby tissues, your doctor will remove the tissues of Squamous Cell Carcinoma with surgery which is accompanied by chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Targeted therapy medications are generally used for locally infiltrated or metastatic Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

This therapy destroys the tumor cells by acting against the proteins that are responsible for tumor growth.

Treatment options of Oral Cavity Cancer

In case of early diagnosis of ORal Cavity Cancer, your doctor will recommend surgery in which the entire tissue that is affected will be removed.

However, if the Oral CavityCancer hs spread to nearby lymph nodes and tissues they will recommend as surgery along with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

In some cases, they might have to remove the part of the bone and later do a constructive surgery to improve your talking and eating abilities.

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Risk Factors

People who do not take care of oral and dental care risk developing oral cancer. Poor dental health or ongoing irritation from poorly fitting dentures may contribute to a risk of developing this cancer.

Prolong sun exposure can also increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

Moreover, HPV, virus risk of developing Oroharylngeal cancer. Men are more likely to develop this type of cancer than women.


It depends on the specific type and stage of Oral Cancer. It also depends on the general health, your age, and your tolerance and response to the treatment you are receiving.

However, early diagnosis is critical because treating Stage I and II cancer have a higher chance of successful treatment.

After your treatment, you will have to visit your doctor frequently to make sure you are recovering. These will consist of physical examination, blood tests, X-rays, and CT scans.

Make sure to follow up with your dentist and oncologist in case you notice anything out of ordinary.

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