Oral cancer is a critical and deadly disease that is affecting millions of people. Oral cancer refers to cancer developing in the oral cavity (mouth) and the oropharynx (throat). The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that one in the country dies every hour from oral cancer, this is curable if diagnosed and treated at an early stage. This is often witnessed among people over the age of 40. Several forms of HPV are also linked to oral cancer. The major risk factors of oral cancer are tobacco and alcohol consumption, including chewing tobacco.
The symptoms of mouth or throat cancer includes sores, lumps, or rough areas in the mouth. One may also feel difficulty chewing food or moving tongue or jaw. In the initial stages, there are often no signs or symptoms present. Oral cancer is more common among those with gum disease. Tobacco and alcohol are risk factors for mouth cancer hence smokers and heavy drinkers should have regular checkups with the dentist. The dentist will be able to spot any signs at an early stage.
If cancer develops, a person may notice the following:
- Visible red and white patches on the lining of the mouth/ tongue
- Pain, bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- mouth ulcers that do not heal
- presence of a lump or thickening of the gums
- loose teeth with no apparent reason
- poorly fitting dentures
- swelling in the jaw
- sore throat or sense of something stuck in the throat
- a hoarse voice
- difficulty chewing or swallowing
- difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
Experiencing any of these symptoms does not mean that a person has mouth cancer, but it is better to get checked with a doctor for clarity and early detection.
There are several myths associated with oral cancer hence, it is important to keep ourselves informed and aware of misconceptions that are associated with oral cancer. Here are some facts and myths about oral cancer:
MYTH 1: Youngsters are at least risk of oral cancer
Fact: Many people believe that they must be old to develop oral cancer. Cancer doesn’t see age; it only has an etiological agent and can occur at any age. Tobacco is consumed irrespective of age similarly at any age cancer can also be developed at any age.
MYTH 2: Only cause of oral cancer is smoking
Fact: Six “S” are causes of oral cancer which is Smoking (chewing tobacco included) – 80% of them, alcohol, Sharp teeth (predispose a person to chronic mucosal trauma, Spices, Sexually Transmitted diseases (HPV, HIV) and Syndromes (Genetic diseases)
MYTH 3: I have no pain, I don’t have to worry
Fact: Sometimes cancerous lesions do not cause any pain. Regular screenings are extremely essential specifically if you are obsessed to tobacco consumption in any form.
MYTH 4: I can only be at risk if it is in my family history
Fact: If there is a family history of Oral Cancer, it is important to get yourself screened regularly as family history plays Critical role. Oral Cancers are generally not genetic and are mostly due to the consumption of tobacco, hence avoiding tobacco consumption can save one from threat of oral cancer.
MYTH 4: Drinking alcohol is safe
Fact: The commensal bacteria present in our mouth are known to convert alcohol to aldehydes, which is toxic. Tobacco combined with regular consumption of alcohol increases the risk of causing oral cancer.
Early detection is very essential to ensure complete cure from oral cancer. Regular oral cancer screenings will help in detecting the disease in its starting stages and the chance of quality treatment outcomes. Myths make detection more difficult and cause delays in diagnosis and treatment. If you have any doubts regarding the signs and symptoms, get yourself tested and be sure.
Contributed by Dr. Ajay Mehta, Senior Surgical Oncologist, HCG NCHRI Cancer Care Centre Nagpur