Concerning Cancer

by Cathy Telfer

Outreach Volunteer


January 12, 2016



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Let's Talk About Oral Cancer

Did you know that when you go to the dentist for a check-up, they not only clean your teeth and check for cavities but they also look for oral cancer? When your dentist uses a piece of gauze to move your tongue from one side of your mouth to the other or when they use their instruments to lift up your tongue and check your cheeks, they are observing anything that looks different.

Using the Canadian Cancer Society website as reference, we find out that oral cavity cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in cells of the mouth. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. The oral cavity is the part of the digestive system that helps you speak, taste and chew. The oral cavity includes the lips, cheeks, gums and teeth. It also includes the part of the tongue in the mouth, the bony part of the roof of the mouth (called the hard palate) and the floor of the mouth under the tongue. A mucous membrane lines and protects the inside of the oral cavity.

Cells in the mouth sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes to cells in the oral cavity can cause precancerous conditions. This means that the cells are not yet cancer but there is a higher chance these abnormal changes will become cancer. In some cases, changes to cells in the oral cavity can cause cancer. Most often, oral cavity cancer starts in flat, thin cells called squamous cells. These cells make up the squamous epithelium, which is a layer of the mucous membrane and this type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity. This is certainly more serious than the more common ailment of "cankers" or benign sores in the mouth that can be treated at home and go away on their own.

Your dentist is looking for signs and symptoms of oral cavity cancer which include such things as: white or red patches on the lips or in the mouth, an ulcer or sore in the mouth or on the lip that doesnít heal, a lump or growth on the lip or in the mouth, including on the tongue or thickening in the cheek.

Treatment for oral cavity cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). These doctors work with the person with cancer to determine a treatment plan which is designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer.

Treatment decisions for oral cavity cancer are based on the stage and grade of the cancer. The specific type of surgery and reconstruction or radiation therapy plan will vary according to the site (lip, tongue, gums, cheek) of the oral cavity cancer and how a treatment may affect a personís appearance, speech and ability to swallow and chew.

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There may be chemotherapy or medications recommended before or after other forms of treatment. The health of a person with oral cavity cancer also can influence the medical recommendations. For example, people in poor health have a higher risk of complications after extensive surgery and reconstruction than people in good health.

Some people have a higher than average risk of developing oral cavity cancer. You may be at a higher risk if you: smoke, use smokeless tobacco or both, drink alcohol, especially if you are a heavy drinker or have a precancerous condition of the oral cavity.

Your dentist becomes part of your healthcare team when it comes to oral cancer but don't just rely on your annual check-up, watch for these symptoms yourself and see your doctor if you notice any abnormalities. The sooner action is taken, the better the prognosis.

If you want to know more about oral cancer or other kinds of cancer, please talk to an information specialist at 1-888-939-3333, visit the website at www.cancer.ca, or call the Canadian Cancer Society Community Office.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016