Cancer is a deadly and pervasive disease. Varieties like breast and cervical cancer have received much media attention. Other varieties, like oral cancer, have gone largely unnoticed. There are symptoms, but without being aware of how oral cancer develops, diagnosis is often delayed, which negatively affects the patient’s prognosis.
Cancer is a mutated overgrowth of cells that can occur almost anywhere in the body. Oral cancer is the generalized term used to refer to any cancer in the mouth and surrounding area such as the tongue, palate, sinuses and throat.
Some cells have a genetic predisposition to mutating abnormally into cancerous cells. This can leave some people more susceptible to cancer than others. Other physiological conditions, like exposure to certain viruses, can also increase the risk of cancer. Human papilloma virus is considered a risk factor for many cancers, including some cases of oral cancer.
Either way, there is usually a precipitating event that triggers cell mutation. Many times, the mutations are caused by environmental factors. According to Google Health, tobacco use and alcohol abuse cause 80-90 percent of oral cancers. It is believed that the carcinogenic chemicals in both chewing tobacco and smoked tobacco can directly affect the DNA of mouth cells, thus leading to cancer. It is thought that alcohol abuse contributes to oral cancer by irritating the mucous membranes. The exact mechanism of the development of cancer is still under investigation and is being exhaustively researched at the world’s finest institutions.
The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that age has been shown to be a significant risk factor. Typically, oral cancer is diagnosed in patients over 40, which suggests that chemical changes associated with the aging process increase susceptibility for the development of oral cancer.
After the cellular level mutation has occurred, symptoms of oral cancer still may not be noticeable. The lack of early symptoms is what makes oral cancer particularly insidious. Unfortunately, symptoms are often not investigated until oral cancer has metastasized to surrounding tissues, like lymph nodes. Routine dental exams can often present an opportunity for a trained dentist to notice oral changes that may indicate cancer. In most cases, though, symptoms such as ulcers or lumps in the mouth and pain or difficulty swallowing can be early warning signs for oral cancer.
Oral cancers are often overlooked due to the difficulty in visualizing this area of the anatomy and the frequent lack of symptoms. Like other cancers, genetic predisposition and environmental factors, including tobacco use and virus exposure, contribute to the initial onset. Seeking prompt attention for suspicious symptoms can aid in an earlier diagnosis and better prognosis if oral cancer is detected. Understanding the basics of this form of cancer can be your greatest weapon in preventing it.
“Oral Cancer,” Cleveland Clinic.
“Oral Cancer,” Google Health.
“The Oral Cancer Foundation,” Oral Cancer Foundation.