Oral cancer is a kind of cancer that affects the mouth and throat. It occurs when cells grow abnormally in areas like the tongue, gums, inner cheeks, and throat. In India, oral cancer makes up about 30% of all cancers. Anyone can get oral cancer, but people who use tobacco, drink a lot of alcohol, had oral cancer before, or have a weak immune system are more likely to get it.
People often confuse the early signs of oral cancer with common dental problems, but it's important to be aware of them. Early detection can lead to better treatment outcomes.
Some of the most common signs include mouth sores that don't heal, ongoing pain in the mouth, difficulty speaking or swallowing, unexplained bleeding, growths or lumps in the mouth or throat, and red or white patches in the mouth or on the lips. Other warning signs can include sudden weight loss, ongoing sore throat or hoarseness, and discomfort in the mouth or throat. If you chew tobacco, you may develop pre-cancerous changes such as red or white patches and a decrease in the ability to open your mouth.
In case you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is crucial to seek medical attention from a dentist or doctor as soon as possible.
Experts recommend taking the following tests:
Biopsy: During a biopsy, a tiny portion of the affected tissue is taken out and studied under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. There is a common myth that biopsies can actually cause cancer to spread. However, this is completely untrue. In fact, it's often delays in treatment that lead to cancer spreading, but people mistakenly blame the biopsy for this.
Endoscopy: An endoscopy involves inserting a slim tube with a camera on the end into the mouth or throat to check for any unusual signs.
Imaging tests: Medical imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans are useful in detecting if cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Here are some things you must do after being diagnosed with oral cancer:
Follow a treatment plan: The doctor will suggest a treatment plan depending on the stage and position of the cancer, which may include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. It's crucial to adhere to the treatment plan as prescribed by the doctor.
Surgery: If the cancer is in its early stages, surgery alone is often enough. But in more advanced cases, the surgery may be followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy. With the advancement in technology like robotics, surgery has become less risky and has better reconstruction options. In the early stages, the surgery is as simple as removing a stone.
Seek support: It's important to seek support from your loved ones by talking to them about your situation. You can also join a support group of people who are going through the same experience as you. This can help you manage the stress that comes with cancer.
Oral cancer is a common type of cancer in India, but it can be treated successfully if detected early. It's important to be aware of the early signs and symptoms of oral cancer and seek medical help if you notice any. With proper treatment and support, it's possible to recover from oral cancer and lead a healthy life.