Mouth cancer includes those cancers that can affect any part of the mouth and oral cavity. Those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol or regularly use tobacco products are at increased risk for developing some form of oral cancer. Belonging to the classification of head and neck cancers, mouth cancer generally necessitates surgery and follow-up treatment that can involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both.
There is no known, definitive cause for the cell mutation involved with the development of mouth cancer. Often originating in the squamous cells, the cellular mutations replicate unchecked and accumulate to form a tumor. Oral cancer may initially present in a single area, such as the inner cheek or on the lower lip, before metastasizing to other parts of the oral cavity.
Abnormal changes in the mouth, such as tissue discoloration or lesion formation, may be initially evaluated during a consultation and physical examination with a physician or dentist. A biopsy will usually be performed on the abnormal tissue to determine whether or not the changes are due to malignancy. Once discovered, a malignancy will generally necessitate additional laboratory and diagnostic tests to determine its staging, or severity.
Individuals who develop mouth cancer will exhibit a variety of signs and symptoms that are usually dependent on the location and invasiveness of the cancer. Preliminary signs of mouth cancer can include single or multiple lesions that do not heal, red or white patches within the oral cavity, and jaw or mouth discomfort when swallowing or chewing. Some may develop a raised area, or lump, inside the mouth or experience a persistent sore throat.
Treatment options for mouth cancer are also entirely dependent on the staging and location of the tumor, as well as the overall health of the individual. Nearly all treatment approaches involve the surgical excision of the tumor and affected tissues in the immediate area. Aggressive cancers may necessitate the removal of lymph nodes and additional portions of muscle or jawbone. Those who undergo such extensive surgery often require reconstructive surgery.
Following the removal of cancerous tissues, individuals will generally be given chemo and/or radiation therapies to eradicate any remaining cancerous cells and inhibit the growth of new ones. Both oral and intravenous administrations of chemotherapy carry a significant risk for side effects that can include pronounced fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Those who undergo radiation therapy may develop side effects that can include jaw discomfort, tissue inflammation and irritation at the administration site, and dry mouth.