Oral squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of mouth cancer that is usually caused by excessive alcohol and tobacco use. Cancer of the mouth usually manifests as small discolored lesions on the tongue, gums, inner lips, or the floor or roof of the mouth. Patients do not typically experience pain, though swelling and irritation can arise in the later stages of cancer. When detected early, most cases of oral squamous cell carcinoma can be treated with surgery or radiation therapy combined with healthy lifestyle changes. Advanced carcinoma tends to spread quickly, however, and can lead to cancer in throat tissue and lymph nodes in the neck.
Squamous cells make up the outermost layer of tissue in the mouth, and are the most susceptible to oral cancer. Affected tissue can turn red or brown and emerge as elevated open lesions. Some lesions appear as white bumps that are rough to the touch. In most cases, the lesions do not cause physical pain or discomfort. As the cancer spreads, more lesions tend to appear and an individual may experience a sore throat and slight swelling and irritation of the tongue, gums, or soft palate.
The vast majority of patients diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma are heavy drinkers or tobacco users. The more a person drinks, smokes, or chews tobacco daily, and the longer he or she has been engaging in such habits, the higher the chances of developing cancer. Other causes of carcinoma include poor oral hygiene, tooth erosion, dietary deficiencies, and viral infections such as the human papillomavirus. When a specific cause cannot be identified, doctors term the condition idiopathic.
Early detection of oral squamous cell carcinoma is important to help prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Doctors can usually diagnose oral cancer by physically examining lesions and taking a biopsy of suspicious tissue. Laboratory analysis of tissue samples can confirm that lesions are cancerous.
Most cases of oral squamous cell carcinoma are treated surgically. A surgeon can cut away lesions and nearby damaged tissue. In serious cases, entire sections of the lower lip, gum, or tongue may need to be removed. If cancer persists after surgical procedures, doctors may decide to administer radiation therapy treatments. Follow-up examinations are important to ensure that all cancerous tissue has been removed. Doctors generally suggest that postoperative patients abstain from tobacco products and alcohol and establish good oral hygiene practices to prevent future issues.