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Oral Cancer

Oral cancer relates to cancerous growth occurring within the structures of the oral cavity. The oral cavity includes the mouth and all the structures within it such as the tongue, teeth, gums, lower jaw, throat, lips, etc.

The high incidence of oral cancer and oral pre-cancerous lesions has long been linked with the habit of betel quid chewing incorporating tobacco. With more and more new cases being diagnosed annually, oral cancer has become a significant health problem.

Oral cancer occurs nearly twice as often in men than in women. Eighty one percent of patients with oral cancer survive at least one year after diagnosis. Early detection is the key.

Mouth and throat cancer

This manifests in cancers that occur in the mouth (oral cavity) and parts of the throat at the back of the mouth
(oropharynx). The oral cavity and oropharynx have many parts: They include: lips, lining of your cheeks, Salivary glands, roof of your mouth (hard palate), back of your mouth (soft palate and uvula), floor of your mouth (area under the tongue), gums and teeth, tongue and tonsils.

Susceptible area

Oral cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity or oropharynx. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth. Almost all oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas.

When oral cancer spreads, it usually travels through the lymphatic system. Cancer cells entering the lymphatic system are carried along by lymph, a clear, watery fluid. The cancer cells often appear first in nearby lymph nodes in the neck.

When this happens, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells as the primary tumor. For example, if oral cancer spreads to the lungs, the cancer cells in the lungs are actually oral cancer cells. The disease is metastatic oral cancer, not lung cancer. It is treated as oral cancer, not lung cancer. Doctors call the new tumor “distant” or metastatic disease.

The risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Tobacco – Tobacco use, in its various forms accounts for most oral cancers. Smoking; chewing tobacco; and using snuff are all linked to oral cancer. The use of other tobacco products (such as bidis and kreteks-cigarettes made with a blend of tobacco, cloves and other flavors, very popular in Indonesia) may also increase the risk of oral cancer. Heavy smokers who use tobacco for a long time are most at risk. Bidis are a more popular among the working class and 85% of the smokers in India use The risk is even greater for tobacco users who drink alcohol heavily. Tobacco use and alcohol are known risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity. In fact, three out of four oral cancers occur in people who use alcohol, tobacco, or both. About 97% of oral cancer victims are known to be associated with tobacco either in the form of smoking or chewing. The productive age group between 15 and 49 years of age, 57% of all men and 11% of all women use some form of tobacco. One can, therefore, understand the serious nature of the problem.
  • Chewing pan a mixture of betel leaf, areca nut and lime, sometimes mixed with tobacco, and the use of flavored tobacco such as ‘gutkha’ – is another reason for the increasing incidence of oral cancer. 
  • Alcohol – People who drink alcohol are more likely to develop oral cancer than people who don’t. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person consumes; it’s even more if the person both drinks alcohol and uses tobacco. 
  • Sun – Cancer of the lip can be caused by exposure to the Using a lotion or lip balm that has a sunscreen can reduce the risk. The risk of cancer of the lip increases if the person also smokes. 
  • A personal history of head and neck cancer: People who have had head and neck cancer are at increased risk of developing another primary head and neck cancer. Smoking increases this risk.


Not eating enough fruits and vegetables may increase the chance of getting oral cancer.

Oral problems from cancer therapies
Treatments like chemotherapy or radiation to the head and neck can cause dry mouth, tooth decay, painful mouth sores and cracked, peeling lips.

If you think you may be at risk, discuss this concern with your doctor or any dentists. Dentists are ideally suited to identifying cancerous lesions in the mouth during their normal dental examinations of patients.

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