First signs of oral cancer and what should be the next steps
The early signs of oral cancer are often overlooked, as they are mistaken for common dental problems but it is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms as early detection can lead to better treatment outcomes.
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that spreads in the mouth and throat of a person and it develops when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably in the tissues of the lips, tongue, gums, inner cheeks, roof or floor of the mouth and the back of the throat. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), oral cancer accounts for about 30% of all cancers in India.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Mandeep Singh Malhotra, Dept of Oncology at the CK Birla Hospital (R) in Delhi, shared, “Oral cancer can occur in anyone, however, people who consume tobacco products, drink alcohol excessively, have a history of oral cancer, or have weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing the disease.”
Highlighting the early signs of oral cancer, Dr Mandeep Singh Malhotra said, “The early signs of oral cancer are often overlooked, as they are mistaken for common dental problems. However, it is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms as early detection can lead to better treatment outcomes.”
According to him, the symptoms of oral cancer may include mouth sores that don't heal, persistent mouth pain, difficulty swallowing or speaking, unexplained bleeding, lumps or growths in the mouth or throat, red or white patches in the mouth or on the lips, sudden or unexplained weight loss, persistent sore throat or hoarseness, pain or discomfort in the mouth or throat. Red/white coloured patches and/or decrease in mouth opening are the pre-cancerous changes which develop especially in people who chew tobacco.
Talking about how it is diagnosed, he said, “If one notices any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, it is important to see a doctor or dentist as soon as possible. The doctor generally performs a physical examination of the mouth and throat to check for any lump or abnormality.”
If the doctor suspects oral cancer, he may recommend further tests like -
- Biopsy: A small piece of tissue from the affected area is removed and examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells. There is myth which is very prevalent that biopsy leads to spread of cancer. This is absolutely false, majority of times the it is the treatment delay which causes the spread and this gets attributed to biopsy.
- Endoscopy: A thin tube with a camera at the end is inserted into the mouth or throat to look for any abnormality.
- Imaging tests: CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans can be used to check for the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
Suggesting what to do when diagnosed with oral cancer, Dr Mandeep Singh Malhotra said, “If someone is diagnosed with oral cancer, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and scared. However, it is important to remember that early detection and treatment can lead to a better outcome.”
Here are some steps one may take post the diagnosis of oral cancer -
- Follow a treatment plan: The doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on the stage and location of the cancer. This may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. It is important to follow the treatment plan as recommended by the doctor.
- Surgery is the standard treatment for oral cancer to achieve cure. In early stages only surgery is sufficient and in locally advanced stages it is surgery followed by Radiation or Chemoradiation. Surgery nowadays with advances in technology like robotics and better reconstruction has become very less morbid. In early stages it is as simple as a stone removal.
- Seek support: Talk to family and friends to seek their support. One can also join a support group for people with cancer which can help them cope with stress.
- Maintain good oral hygiene: Oral cancer treatment can cause dry mouth, mouth sores, and other dental problems. It is important to maintain good oral hygiene and visit the dentist regularly.
- Make healthy lifestyle changes: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are risk factors for oral cancer. Quit smoking and alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
- Follow-up visits: After completing the treatment, a doctor may schedule follow-up visits to monitor the progress and check for any signs of recurrence.
Oral cancer is common cancer in India; therefore, early detection is crucial for the successful treatment of oral cancer. It is important to be aware of the early signs of oral cancer and to seek medical attention if one notices any of the signs or symptoms. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to overcome oral cancer and lead a healthy life.