Cancer is any unrestrained restrained growth of anomalous human cells. Current statistics and scientific research has shown that the incidence of all forms of cancer is increasing at an alarming rate. Oral cancer denotes a group of deadly cancerous anomalies that may develop in the dental and maxillofacial region. It has been found that oral cancer is the tenth most common tumour in the world.Due to the severity and life-threatening potential of oral cancers, vigorous research is being put into the prevention, diagnosis, and management of maxillofacial cancers.
When to visit the Dentist?
There are various types of oral cancerous diseases, depending on the organ involved and the site of origin.However, in case of the following symptoms, it is imperative that you visit your dentist to get screened for oral cancer, as they may be a precursor or an indicator to developing malignancy:
- Any white (Leukoplakia) or red (Erythroplakia) skin lesion that does not resolve within 14 days
- Mostly located on the tongue, cheeks and the floor of mouth
- Most often the swelling is painless, but may be accompanied with a burning sensation
- A lesion that was initially small but is now growing at a fast rate
- Unexplained numbness and loss of sensation
- Persistent difficulty in chewing or a feeling of presence of lump in the neck
- Huskiness of voice
It is not necessary that all these symptoms must be present to confirm diagnosis of oral cancer, rather the appearance of the above mentioned signs and symptoms may vary with individual cases.
Risk Factors Associated with Oral tumours
Various factors that enhance the chances of cancer development have been identified:
- Consumption of Alcohol, especially in conjunction with smoking
- Past family history of any form of cancer
- Poor oral hygiene maintenance
- Extensive exposure to sunlight, especially significant factor in case of Melanoma and Basal cell carcinoma of orofacial region
It is however, interesting to know that 25% of patients are those who sparingly smoke and minimally consume alcohol.
- Age : most common in middle aged and younger people
- Ethnicity : the incidence is found to be higher in dark-skinned people and more so in residents of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh
- Gender : females are more affected than the male population
Role of Dentist in Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
Upon suspicion of oral cancer in a patient, dentists confirm the presence of oral cancer with various tests. The most fundamental investigation is the biopsy, which involves surgically incising a chunk of the affected area, along with some healthy tissue, which is then sent to the lab for histopathological examination. Similarly, scientists have discovered various genes and enzymes that are specific to a certain type of oral cancerous lesion. Hence, blood specimens are sent to the lab for detection of any of the “tumour marker” proteins.
The importance of radiological investigations, in detection of oral cancer, cannot be refuted. Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are at the forefront of cancer management. With these technologies the location, growth behaviour, and size of the tumour can be ascertained with great precision.
Management of Oral Cancer
The treatment plan for tumour management depends upon the aggressiveness and type of cancer. Malignant tumours are highly aggressive tumours that possess a life threatening potential. Conversely, benign tumours are usually isolated, less aggressive, and do not endanger life of the patients. Small, isolated tumours are best removed surgically. On the other hand, malignant and extensively metastasized tumours need to be shrunken first through radiotherapy before any surgical intervention is performed.
If areas other than the site of tumour origin are also affected, the associated blood vessels and lymph nodes are also excised, to remove chances of recurrence. In most severe cases, a highly aggressive approach, known as the radical neck dissection, is used. This involves removal of all the lymph nodes in the neck along with a substantial amount of healthy and tumorous tissue.
A Final Word
Oral cancer, however lethal in certain cases, is quite preventable and manageable if diagnosed in early stages. It is the need of the hour to spread awareness to people about oral cancer, so they can immediately consult their dentist and general physician should they find any symptoms that may be associated with a malignancy.