Oral cancer is any malignant growth found in the mouth or throat. These cancers typically begin on the tongue or bottom of the mouth and are highly treatable if caught early. It is important to be evaluated immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Dental problems
  • Bleeding in the mouth or tongue
  • Lump in your neck
  • Mouth sores that will not heal
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Persistent earaches
  • White or red patches in your mouth

No one knows why a malignant or cancerous growth begins to grow. However, certain risk factors for oral cancer may include:

  • Family history of head and neck cancer
  • History of smoking or heavy alcohol use
  • Sex: males are at a higher risk than females
  • Age: individuals older than 40 are at higher risk

To make a complete and accurate diagnosis, your doctor will perform the following:

  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Complete exam on your mouth, nose, head, and face to determine the type and nature of the growth
  • Biopsy to examine the tumor tissue and determine the kind of cancer, how aggressive it is, and the best way to treat it
  • Diagnostic, including imaging studies, lab tests, and detailed physical examinations, including:
    • Panendoscopy includes direct laryngoscopy, (look at voice box), esophagoscopy, (esophagus), and bronchoscopy (bronchial tubes and lungs) to stage the tumor and look for additional tumors within these areas.
    • X-rays
    • MRI
    • CT scan
    • PET scan

Treatment for oral cancers depends on when and where the cancer is found, as well as the type and grade of the tumor, but usually includes:

After your surgery and completing chemotherapy and/or radiation, your doctor will want to monitor you closely to make sure the cancer has not reoccurred. The visits may be as frequently as once a month for the first year following treatment. These visits will typically consist of a physical examination, flexible endoscopy, a discussion of how you are feeling, and any diagnostic tests needed to determine your health.

Types

  • Tongue Cancer: cancer of the mobile part of the tongue is usually treated with surgery and radiation. The surgery involves resecting the affected portion of the tongue. Skin grafts, radial forearm free flaps, or anterolateral thigh flaps may be used to reconstruct the resected area.
  • Floor-of-the-Mouth Cancer: This kind of cancer is usually treated with surgery and radiation. Surgery may require a partial mandibulectomy. Free flap reconstruction with bone that is taken from the fibula, rib, or scapula is sometimes required.
  • Alveolar Ridge: Cancer of the alveolar ridge (where the teeth are located) is usually treated by surgery alone. Radiation may also be required in some cases following surgery.