In the year 2011, there were an estimated 39,400 new cases of oral cancer and 7,900 deaths as a result of it, in the USA alone. Every year the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that over 21,000 men and 9,000 women are diagnosed with this cancer, many of whom are over 60 years of age. While some people are not aware that this is very common, oral cancer, which is formed in the tissues of the oral cavity (mouth and the lips) and the oropharynx (part of the throat at the posterior of the mouth), has taken the lives of many people all over the world. In some countries, this type of cancer is as common as lung cancer and just as deadly.
Like any type of cancer, this occurs due to a problem with the normal cell cycle, when new cells are mass-produced where they are not needed or when old cells don’t die out as they should, creating extra masses of cells, known as tumors. It’s the malignant (cancerous) tumors that we should worry about, not the benign (harmless) ones. The majority of oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that are present on the surface of the mouth, tongue and lips, and are referred to as squamous cell carcinomas.
These cancerous cells have a chance of separating from the original cell mass, and spreading to other parts of the body, such as blood vessels and lymph vessels and nodes, which supply the whole body. The neck is an early victim but tissues of other parts of the body can be affected too. This spread is called metastasis in medical terminology.
For a person diagnosed with cancer the causative factors, or risk factors, are several. The number one risk factor is tobacco. Regular smokers or users of smokeless tobacco (snuff and chewing) are at high risk. This is especially significant if you have been using tobacco over a long period of time. Add alcohol to this and the risk is even higher.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is another contributing factor, if not as common a reason as tobacco. These viruses are passed through sexual contact and can infect your mouth and throat. This type of infection is assumed to be the culprit for cancer at the back of the tongue and throat, in tonsils and the soft palate.
It is hard to believe but the sun can cause oral cancer too, just like skin cancer. Long term exposure to the UV rays of the sun can cause cancer of the lip and the risk is of course more if one smokes.
If you have had this type of cancer before then you are at risk of having it again. Cancers are notorious for their recurrence even after exhaustive treatment including chemotherapy. Experts believe that some people are genetically predisposed to a high risk of cancer, more than others.
Even your diet can play a role. If you are not a fan of veggies and fruits, you are increasing your chances of getting oral cancer, based on past research.
The use of betel nuts for chewing, just like with tobacco, is commonly seen in Asia and as a result oral cancer is fairly present in the region. Again, if tobacco and alcohol are also used along with betel nut, the chance of developing oral cancer is greatly increased.
The issue with cancer is that many people are late to be diagnosed. A high number of people who are affected do not realize the danger. Your dentist will help you to be aware of the symptoms, such as red patches or bleeding in the mouth, persistent oral sores, loose teeth, issues in swallowing and lumps in the neck region.