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Everything You Need to Know About Mouth Cancer

Empower yourself with essential knowledge about mouth cancer, its risks, and treatment.

  • 13 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read

Are you worried about your oral health? Have you been experiencing unexplained mouth pain or sore areas inside your mouth? Then it’s possible that you could be at risk for developing mouth cancer. In this article, we’ll answer all your questions about mouth cancer, such as “What is mouth cancer”, “What causes mouth cancer”, and much more, so that you have peace of mind when it comes to your overall wellness.


What is Mouth cancer?

So, what is oral cancer? Oral, or mouth cancer, is a severe disease that affects the lips, tongue, gums, and other areas in the mouth. It starts as a small lesion or bump that may initially go unnoticed, but it can rapidly grow and spread to other body parts. One of the most alarming things about mouth cancer is that it can be quite the challenge to detect in its early stages, but there are certain symptoms to be aware of, which we will discuss in the next section.


Symptoms of Mouth cancer

It’s important to know what are the symptoms of mouth cancer, as it helps to self-assess the disease and we can seek a doctor’s consultation immediately to confirm whether we have this type of cancer or not. The following symptoms are:
● A sore on our lip or mouth that won’t heal after taking treatment
● A mass or lump anywhere in the mouth
● Bleeding gum and loosening of teeth
● Pain or difficulty in swallowing
● Trouble wearing dentures
● A lump in the neck region
● An earache that won’t go away
● Unexplained weight loss
● Lower lip, face, neck, or chin numbness
● White, red and white, or red patches on the inner lining of one’s mouth and tongue
● Hoarseness in voice and chronic sore throat
● Swelling and pain in the jaw or stiffness while opening the mouth
● Tongue pain
● Excessive salivation
● Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
In case you notice any of these changes in your mouth or nearby areas, you should contact your health care professional immediately to diagnose oral cancer disease at the initial stages.


Causes And Risk Factors Of Mouth Cancer

Cancer occurs when a genetic alteration causes cells to grow uncontrollably, forming a tumour. Over time, these cells can spread to other areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma is responsible for approximately 90% of mouth cancers, originating in the squamous cells that line the lips and inside of the mouth.
Although it is not completely clear what causes oral cancer, there are some factors that can increase a person's chances of developing this disease. These include:
● Tobacco use
● Heavy alcohol consumption
● Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV)
Apart from this, there are other factors that could increase your risk of getting mouth cancer, such as:
● Exposure to UV light from the sun
● Past radiation therapy for the neck or head
● Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals like sulfuric acid or formaldehyde
● Poor oral hygiene
● A weak immune system
● A family history of the disease
Additionally, age and gender can also play a role in the development of mouth cancer. By knowing the potential causes and risk factors of mouth cancer, individuals can take proactive steps to minimise their risk of this deadly disease.


Stages of Mouth cancer

There are four stages of oral cancer:
● Stage 1: The cancerous cells formed in the lining of the oral cavity start invading nearby cells. Generally, the size of the tumour is 2 cm or smaller and 5 mm deep. In this stage, cancer hasn’t spread to the surrounding areas.
● Stage 2: The tumour spread size is 2-4 cm and 10 mm deep. In this stage 1 cancer hasn’t spread.
● Stage 3: In this stage of mouth cancer the bruise becomes more than 4 cm in size and 10 mm in depth. The cancerous cells in this stage start invading one or two lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
● Stage 4: At this last stage, the tumours are any size and the cancer cells have spread to nearby tissue and organs like jaw muscles, skulls, neck, lymph nodes, etc. This stage is also called metastasis, or advanced stage.

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Complications related to mouth cancer

As with any form of cancer, early detection is key to successful treatment. It is thus important to be aware of the various symptoms associated with mouth cancer. Unfortunately, even with prompt treatment, there can be complications related to this disease. Some common complications include:

  • Difficulty swallowing: Dysphasia is the medical term for having difficulty swallowing, as this process involves movement and interaction of muscles, which can be easily disrupted when the cell proliferates in the oral cavity.
  • Disruption with speech: The radiotherapy and surgery involved in mouth cancer therapy can affect the process of speech which makes it difficult to pronounce certain sounds.
  • Emotional impact: Being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment is also one of the factors that trigger depression due to which we can feel down and hopeless.


How is Mouth cancer diagnosed?

The latest developments and innovations in the field of science have led scientists to diagnose cancer at early stages based on our symptoms, clinical examination, and blood test by using tumour markers and tissue biopsy of the suspected region in the body.

A biopsy is performed by removing a small part of the affected tissue to detect the presence of cancerous cells, the study is called histopathology to confirm the diagnosis of cancer. There are 3 main methods for carrying out a biopsy:

  • Punch Biopsy: A tissue slice of the affected area is cut and examined in a histopathology laboratory to look for any cancerous cell.
  • Fine needle aspiration- A needle is used to draw out a small sample of tissue or fluids from the lump and then checked for cancerous cells.
  • Panendoscopy- This method is used if the suspected tissue is at the back of our throat in the nasal cavity.

A doctor may run further tests to scan for the cancer that provide high resolution images such as:

  • X-Ray
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Computerised tomography (CT) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

How is Mouth cancer treated?

The treatment of mouth cancer will depend on the type and size of the tumour and how far it has spread in the body as well as our general health. The treatment of cancer is not done by one oncologist but by a team of doctors called the ‘Tumour Board’ which comprises a surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, palliative care specialist, pathologist and radiologist.
So, based on the condition and general health of the patient; the doctor decides the treatment plan. If the cancer hasn't spread beyond the oropharynx that includes the throat at the back of our mouth, treatment may include a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, then a patient is treated to slow the progress of the cancer and help relieve symptoms by using surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Doctors may recommend treatment procedures that include:
1. Surgery: In this procedure, the surgical removal of facial tissue is done on the area affected by the growth of cancer cells so that it cannot spread further to nearby organs.

2. Radiotherapy: This therapy is one of the most popular and effective medical treatments to treat mouth cancer patients. Here, radio-oncologists use radioactive chemicals or X-rays to kill the DNA structure of cancerous cells
3. Chemotherapy: This therapy involves doctors using chemical treatments that are given through an intravenous drip that helps in blocking cell growth resulting in the loss of ability of cancerous cells to reproduce inside the mouth.

5. Immunotherapy: In immunotherapy, doctors try to improve a patient's immune response by giving some drugs like pembrolizumab, cetuximab and nivolumab to fight against cancer.

Can Mouth Cancer Be Prevented?

While mouth cancer cannot be fully prevented, there are certain preventive measures we can take to lower our risk of developing the disease:
● Avoid smoking
● Avoid use of tobacco products
● Avoid alcohol consumption
● Avoid excess exposure to sun
● Regular dental checks
● Maintain a healthy diet
● Avoid consumption of betel nut
Following preventive measures can help us in getting an early diagnosis, which would effectively treat and cure mouth cancer.



We hope this article has given you an insight into what is mouth cancer, a serious disease that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As for what to do next, make sure you have adequate health insurance in case of any type of emergency, as it could help cover the costs associated with diagnosis and treatment of mouth cancer. Keeping up with routine check-ups and taking extra care of your mouth can also go a long way in helping to prevent the onset of mouth cancer. Stay vigilant about your health and take steps today to make sure you’re safeguarding yourself from this disease. It may seem daunting at first, but by taking small yet meaningful actions, you'll be putting yourself in the best position for good oral hygiene- which is one step in the right direction!

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