Overview of oral cancer
Oral cancer is on the rise owing to the increased use of tobacco and alcohol.1 It has been estimated that in India, about 65% of all men and about 33% of all women use tobacco in some form.2 Although oral cancer occurs more commonly in middle-aged and older individuals it may also be observed in younger individuals.
Tongue is the most common site of appearance of oral cancer wherein the side portion and lower portion of the tongue are affected. Other sites include the floor of the mouth, gums, inner portion of the cheek and hard palate. These initial lesions gradually progress to form deeper ulcers with averted margins and minute projections. The ulcers are rarely painful in the primary stages but become painful as the tumour grows deeper and wider. The tumour may at times spread to the neighboring lymph nodes in the neck and also to the lungs.1
Squamous cell carcinoma:
The commonest form of oral cancer is the squamous cell carcinoma that is often associated with the formation of white (leukoplakia), red (erythroplakia) or a mixed red and white (erythroleukoplakia) patches in the mouth initially.
Causes for oral cancer
The main causative factor is tobacco wherein it has been established that the risk of oral cancer is 5–9 times greater for smokers than for nonsmokers. Individuals who use snuff or have the habit of chewing tobacco are also associated with an increased risk.1
In India and Southeast Asia, a strong association has been noted with the chronic use of betel quid (paan) and oral cancer.3
Alcohol consumption is another risk factor wherein moderate-to-heavy drinkers have a 3–9 times greater risk of developing oral cancer.
Individuals who are both heavy drinkers and heavy smokers are at a much higher risk.4
Diagnosis of oral cancer
The diagnosis of oral cancer is based on the visual inspection of the lesion. A biopsy is advised to identify the specific type of tumour and grade its severity.5
Treatment of oral cancer
The various treatment options available include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Early tumours respond well to surgery and/or radiotherapy. However, the chances of recurrence cannot be ruled out. Advanced stage cancers are associated with an increased rate of mortality though treated appropriately.
Cessation of smoking and other forms of tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption at the earliest stage can prevent worsening of the condition.
Despite various advances in the treatment options such as surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, the 5-year survival rate for individuals with oral cancer has not improved significantly and it remains at about 50–55%.
Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: March 26, 2012