Oral cancer is the cancer developing in the various sites of the oral cavity like gingiva, lip, tongue, buccal mucosa, floor of mouth, etc.
In 2008, an estimated number of 263,000 new cases were detected and around 127,000 people died due to oral cancer worldwide (Globocan 2008, IARC). Oral cancer is more common among the men than the women and in the developing countries than the developed ones. In South Central Asia where Nepal lies, it falls among the top 3 cancers. The mortality due to oral cancer too is very high in this region mostly owing to the late detection of the case and lack of proper healthcare facilities.
Risk factors for oral cancer– Tobacco by far is the major risk factor along with alcohol. And together they have a synergistic role in occurrence of oral cancer. Smokeless tobacco products such as gutkha, sweet leaves (paan), chilim, etc. too have been established as risk factors. Also, the family history of oral cancer may predispose a person to higher risk of oral cancers.
Another alarming finding nowadays is the increase in the number of younger non smoking people presenting with oral cancer in contrast to the normal occurrence in the older age groups of >40 years who were smokers. It has been revealed in various researches that the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) especially the 16 strain, which can be sexually transmitted among partners, is responsible for this type of oral cancer.
Precancerous Lesions and Conditions – These can be thought of as signals that our body gives to us; trying to say that if you continue further with the habit, you might get cancer. These are white and red lesions on the affected areas which might not be scrapable. There is a chance that these lesions will convert into oral cancer in no time. Therefore if you detect any red or white lesion inside the mouth, it is advised to visit the dentist or a specialist right away.
Signs and Symptoms – Includes red (erythroplakia) and white (leukoplakia) lesions in the mouth, an ulcer/ sore that will not heal any type of swelling in the mouth and the neck, mobile teeth and bleeding in the mouth. It usually is painless and is detected later by the patient thus leading to late diagnosis and poorer prognosis of treatment.
Treatment – The treatment for oral cancer is similar to other cancers, i.e. surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and sometimes the combination of these three.
Early detection for oral cancer is possible with self examination every month and visiting the dentist or specialist for further investigations when required. Prevention is the key to a healthy life. It has been proven by data that 1/3 rd of all the cancers in the world is preventable if we refrain from tobacco and alcohol, do regular physical activity and then eat a healthy diet.