Oral Cancer: Symptoms & Treatment

Oral Cancer: Symptoms & Treatment

Oral cancer, also called mouth cancer, is a severe condition caused by the abnormal growth of cells affecting the lips, tongue, mouth, and throat. Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer, but the most common causes include the following:

  • Using tobacco products (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, or chewing tobacco)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Exposure to UV light (for lip cancer)
  • Family history of cancer
  • Poor oral hygiene


Sign and Symptoms of Oral Cancer


The symptoms of oral cancer may vary depending on the location and stage of cancer. However, most prominent symptoms of oral cancer include the following:

  • Sores or lumps in the mouth or on the lip that do not heal within two weeks
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Red or white patches in the mouth
  • Persistent hoarseness or sore throat
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • A feeling of something stuck in the throat
  • Swelling of the jaw or neck


It is important to note that other conditions, such as an infection or a dental issue, can also cause these symptoms. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, you must see a dentist or a doctor for an evaluation.


Diagnostic Procedures for Oral Cancer


Early detection and treatment are vital for improving survival rates and reducing the risk of complications. If a dentist or doctor suspects that you may have oral cancer, they will thoroughly examine your mouth and throat. The examination will include the following:

  • A visual examination
  • Palpation
  • A biopsy

If cancer is found, doctors may do further tests such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to determine the stage of the tumor.


Visual examination

During a visual examination, the dentist or the doctor will look for any abnormalities in the mouth and throat, such as sores, lumps, or discoloration. They will also feel for any masses or lumps in the neck or jaw.



A biopsy is a procedure in which a small tissue sample is removed from the suspicious area and examined under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of oral cancer. The biopsy procedure can be carried out in different ways:

  • Incisional biopsy: a small piece of the suspicious tissue is removed
  • Excisional biopsy: tissue from the entire suspicious area is removed
  • Fine-needle aspiration: a thin needle is used to remove a small sample of cells


Staging of oral cancer

Once an oral cancer diagnosis is confirmed, the next step is to determine the cancer stage. The most common staging system for oral cancer is the TNM system, which stands for Tumor, Node, and Metastasis. The severity of cancer will determine the treatment options and the prognosis.

  • T: The location and size of the tumor
  • N: Whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • M: Whether cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body


Treatment and Prevention of Oral Cancer


The treatment for oral cancer will depend on the stage of cancer, the location, and the patient's overall health. The widely acceptable treatment options include:


Surgical Interventions for oral cancer - Surgery is the most prevailing treatment strategy for oral cancer. The cancerous tissue is removed, along with a margin of healthy tissue. Depending on the location and extent of the cancer, this may involve removing part of the jaw or the tongue. Surgery may be performed alone or in combination with radiation therapy or chemotherapy.


Radiation therapy - Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment procedure that uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy is usually combined with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. The radiation is carefully targeted to the tumor, so it doesn't damage nearby healthy tissue.


Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy can be used alone or in conjugation with other treatments like surgery or radiation therapy. It utilizes specific drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy can shrink tumors, prevent cancer cells from spreading, or kill cancer cells that have metastasized. It can also be used to reduce symptoms such as pain or fatigue. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally or given through an intravenous injection.


Recovering from Oral Cancer - After the treatment, the recovery time and side effects will vary depending on the type of treatment and the stage and location of the cancer. Some patients may be able to return to work and normal activities within a few weeks, while others may take several months to recover fully.


Side effects associated with  the therapy - Radiation and chemotherapy is associated with several clinical adversities and may cause side effects, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritation or redness
  • Dryness or soreness in the mouth and throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Anemia


Tips to Prevent Oral Cancer - Several steps that can help reduce the risk of developing oral cancer are:

  • Quit smoking and avoid using tobacco products.
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Practice good oral hygiene.
  • Use sun protection for the lips.
  • Get regular dental check-ups.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV.

Eating a healthy diet abundant in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and red meat can also help reduce the risk of oral cancer.

IJCP Editorial Team

Comprising seasoned professionals and experts from the medical field, the IJCP editorial team is dedicated to delivering timely and accurate content and thriving to provide attention-grabbing information for the readers. What sets them apart are their diverse expertise, spanning academia, research, and clinical practice, and their dedication to upholding the highest standards of quality and integrity. With a wealth of experience and a commitment to excellence, the IJCP editorial team strives to provide valuable perspectives, the latest trends, and in-depth analyses across various medical domains, all in a way that keeps you interested and engaged.

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