Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a serious health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. This devastating disease primarily affects the mouth, including the lips, tongue, gums, and the lining of the cheeks. It is important to understand the risks associated with oral cancer and to be proactive in its prevention and early detection. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for oral cancer.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, refers to the abnormal growth of cells in the oral cavity. This can include the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, and the roof or floor of the mouth. The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which develops in the thin, flat cells lining the mouth and throat.

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a more advanced form of gum disease. Periodontitis occurs when the infection spreads beneath the gum line, leading to the destruction of the supporting tissues and bone. As the disease progresses, pockets form between the gums and teeth, allowing more bacteria to accumulate. Without prompt treatment, this can result in tooth loss and other serious complications.

Risk factors for oral cancer

Several factors contribute to the development of oral cancer. One of the primary causes is tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Tobacco contains harmful chemicals that damage the cells in the mouth and increase the risk of cancerous growth. Excessive alcohol consumption also plays a significant role in the development of oral cancer. Prolonged sun exposure to the lips can increase the risk, especially for individuals who work outdoors. Additionally, people with a compromised immune system are more susceptible to oral cancer.

Symptoms and early detection of oral cancer

Early detection is crucial in improving the chances of successful treatment. Being aware of the early signs and symptoms of oral cancer can help individuals seek medical attention promptly. Mouth sores that do not heal within two weeks, persistent pain or numbness in the mouth, difficulty chewing or swallowing, and changes in speech or voice should not be ignored. Other warning signs include a lump or thickening in the mouth, a white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth, and unexplained weight loss. It is important to consult a healthcare professional if any of these symptoms persist or worsen.

Oral cancer diagnosis and staging

If oral cancer is suspected, a healthcare professional will conduct a thorough examination of the mouth and throat. This may include a physical examination, a biopsy of any suspicious areas, and imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans. The biopsy involves removing a small sample of tissue for laboratory analysis, which helps determine if cancer cells are present. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the cancer is staged to determine the extent of its spread. Staging is important for treatment planning and prognosis.

Treatment options for oral cancer

The treatment options for oral cancer depend on the stage and location of the cancer, as well as the individual’s overall health. The primary treatment modalities include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery involves removing the cancerous tumour and nearby lymph nodes, if necessary. In some cases, reconstructive surgery may be required to restore the appearance and functionality of the mouth. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells, while chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. In certain situations, a combination of these treatments may be recommended.

Oral cancer prevention and lifestyle changes

Prevention plays a vital role in reducing the risk of oral cancer. Avoiding tobacco use, both smoking and chewing, is the most effective way to lower the risk. Limiting alcohol consumption and practising safe sun exposure by using lip balm with SPF can also help prevent oral cancer. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, and good oral hygiene, can contribute to overall well-being and reduce the risk of developing oral cancer.

Emotional and psychological impact of oral cancer

Being diagnosed with oral cancer can have a significant emotional and psychological impact on individuals and their loved ones. The uncertainty, fear, and stress associated with the diagnosis and treatment can take a toll on mental health. It is important to seek support from healthcare professionals, friends, and family members during this challenging time. Counselling, support groups, and online resources can provide guidance and a sense of community for individuals affected by oral cancer.

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Support resources for oral cancer patients and their families

Numerous support resources are available for oral cancer patients and their families. Cancer treatment centres often have dedicated support services, including counselling, nutrition guidance, and rehabilitation programs. Organizations such as the Oral Cancer Foundation and Cancer Research UK provide valuable information, support, and resources for individuals affected by oral cancer. Local support groups and online communities can also offer a safe space to share experiences and connect with others facing similar challenges.

Oral cancer awareness campaigns and initiatives

Raising awareness about oral cancer is crucial in promoting early detection, prevention, and support. Many organizations and healthcare professionals actively participate in oral cancer awareness campaigns and initiatives. These campaigns aim to educate the public about the risk factors and symptoms of oral cancer, the importance of regular check-ups and screenings, and the available treatment options. They also focus on dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding oral cancer, empowering individuals to take control of their oral health.


Oral cancer is a serious health concern that requires attention and proactive measures. Understanding the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking early medical intervention can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment outcomes. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and practising good oral hygiene, individuals can reduce the risk of developing oral cancer. Additionally, accessing support resources and participating in awareness campaigns can provide valuable information and emotional support to those affected by oral cancer. Together, we can work towards preventing oral cancer and supporting individuals on their journey to recovery.


Hassona Y, Qutachi T, Dardas L, Alrashdan MS, Sawair F. The online attention to oral cancer research: An Altmetric analysis. Oral Dis. 2019 Sep;25(6):1502-1510. doi: 10.1111/odi.13111. Epub 2019 May 27. PMID: 31033085

“Margin to depth of invasion ratio as an indicator for stratifying close margins in early-stage oral squamous cell carcinoma” by Chun-Yang Hung, et al. Oral Oncol. April 2024. 

“Efficacy and safety of cadonilimab in previously treated recurrent or metastatic nasopharyngeal carcinoma(COMPASSION-06): A phase II multicenter study” by Qiu-Yan Chen, et al. Oral Oncol. April 2024.

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