Oral cancer refers to a group of cancers that can affect any part of the mouth, including the lips, tongue, gums, and lining of the cheeks. While oral cancer can be a severe and life-threatening disease, early detection, diagnosis, and staging are crucial to improving outcomes and reducing mortality rates.
Early detection of oral cancer is essential for improving treatment outcomes and increasing survival rates. The earlier the cancer is detected, the more effective the treatment options will likely be. In addition, early detection can also help to reduce the need for more extensive and invasive treatment options, such as surgery or radiation therapy. Regular dental check-ups are crucial for the early detection of oral cancer. During a dental examination, if your mouth has any signs of abnormalities or changes, such as lumps, sores, or changes in the tissue’s colour or texture, it is recommended to undergo a biopsy to confirm the presence of cancerous cells.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
In addition to regular dental check-ups, awareness of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer is essential. The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
- Persistent mouth sores or ulcers that do not heal
- A lump or thickening in the mouth or throat
- Red or white patches on the tongue, gums, or lining of the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Hoarseness or changes in the voice
- Ear pain or persistent sore throat
- Numbness or pain in the mouth or lips
Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
If oral cancer is detected by a dentist at an initial stage, referring to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist is the next step. This moved to a more detailed examination of your mouth and throat, and you may order additional tests, such as imaging scans or a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure in which a small tissue sample is removed from the affected area and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will analyse the tissue to determine whether cancerous cells are present and, if so, what type of cancer it is.
Staging of Oral Cancer
Once a diagnosis of oral cancer has been confirmed, the next step is determining the cancer stage. Staging determines the extent and spread of cancer, which is crucial for selecting the most appropriate treatment options. The staging of oral cancer is typically based on several factors, including the size and location of the tumor, whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and whether it has metastasised (spread) to other parts of the body. The most common staging system used for oral cancer is the TNM system, which stands for Tumor, Node, and Metastasis.
Treatment of Oral Cancer
The treatment of oral cancer depends on several factors, including the cancer stage, the tumour’s location, and the patient’s overall health. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, new targeted therapies and immunotherapy options or a combination of treatments