Oral cancer, a type of head and neck cancer, is the term used for malignant tumors that involves the tissues of the mouth or throat. Mostly the squamous cells found in the mouth, lips, and tongue are affected. It affects those who are above the age of 40 years usually. It is diagnosed when it is too late and has already spread to the lymph nodes. Hence, the detection of oral cancer at an early stage is the best way of treating it effectively. Your dentist is the best person who can let you know if you have anything unusual developing inside your mouth.





Who are at risk of developing oral cancer?

Generally, those who smoke or chew tobacco are at a considerably higher risk of developing oral cancer. It has been seen more in males than in females.

Similarly, people with the habit of consuming alcohol along with tobacco in an excessive manner are more likely to develop oral cancer.

Other possible risk factors are-

  •   Infection from Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
  •   Compromised immunity
  •   Parents or directly related family member with a history of oral cancer
  •   Exposure to sun rays for longer durations over an extended period of time



How will I come to know if I have oral cancer?

As mentioned earlier, it is quite tough to find if one has oral cancer or not in an early stage. Nevertheless, there are few symptoms that can point towards oral cancer like-

  •   A lip sore that has not healed for a long time
  •   A growth inside the mouth
  •   Teeth growing loose
  •   Difficulty or pain in swallowing
  •   Swelling on your neck
  •   Bleeding from the mouth
  •   Abnormal weight loss
  •   An unhealed earache
  •   Soreness in the throat
  •   White or red patches on tongue or lips
  •   Pain or stiffness in the jaw or tongue

Even though few symptoms appear to be overlapping with other medical conditions, any uneasiness persisting for a prolonged duration should be brought into your doctor’s notice.



How long does oral cancer take to spread?

It is very difficult to say exactly how long oral cancer can take to spread and the number of years an oral cancer patient can survive. It depends on a number of factors like-

  •   Stage of cancer
  •   Fitness level
  •   Past treatment

Several studies have been able to put forth an average survival rate based on the data from a large group of patients. Yet, individual cases may differ.


Stage of cancer

Depending on the size of the tumor and its extent of spread, oral cancer can be divided into 4 stages-


Stage 1: In this stage, the tumor is around 2 cms or smaller than that and cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 2: When tumor size falls in between 2cm to 4cm and the lymph nodes still remain unaffected, it falls in this stage.

It has been seen observed that 90% of men and 95% had survived for 1 or more years and 80% of them (both men and women) had survived for more than 3 years when their oral cancer was detected in Stage 1 and 2. This simply means that the earlier oral cancer is detected, the better is the rate of survival.

Stage 3: If the tumor has spread to one lymph node or is larger than 4 cm without spreading to any lymph nodes it will be a Stage 3 oral cancer.

Stage 4: This is the most aggressive stage as a tumor can be of any size and has spread into neighboring organs and tissues including lymph nodes.


Studies report that around 70% of men and 65% of women could survive for one year or more whereas 50% of both of them could live for 3 years or more.


Fitness level

Physically fit and active individuals have shown to recover better than those who are already suffering from other medical ailments like diabetes or HIV infection as these chronic illnesses make the persons’ immune system very low. Similarly, those who are young happen to respond quite well to the treatment procedures.

Another point to be noted is that the site of oral cancer is also one of the most crucial factors that govern the survival rate. It has also been seen those people who have oral cancer due to Human Papilloma Virus tend to respond to treatment and fare on well than those that aren’t caused by HPV.


Past treatment

If the person was detected with cancer earlier and the treatment for the same was left incomplete the chances of relapse are more. To avoid that from happening, the person should never defer turning up for routine check-ups.


Bottom Line

Oral cancer is quite a nightmare!

Though not totally avoidable, it is always recommended to practice all the possible measures to prevent it from happening.

Chances of faster recovery increases when oral cancer is caught in its primary stage. Your dentist can help you in detecting suspicious-looking entities inside your mouth. So never miss your routine dental visits.

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