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Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

  • Posted on- Oct 15, 2015
  • 745 Views

Cancer of the oral cavity and cancer of the oropharynx are two of the most common types of cancer that develop in the head and neck region. Most of the oral and oropharyngeal cancers are Squamous cell carcinoma, meaning they begin in the flat, squamous cells found in the lining of the mouth and throat. The most common locations for this form of cancer are the tongue, tonsils, oropharynx, gums, and floor of the mouth.

Signs and symptoms of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer

Patients suffering from oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer may experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Sore in the mouth or on the lip that does not heal
  • Red or white patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
  • Lump on the lip, mouth, neck, or throat or a feeling of thickening in the cheek
  • Constant sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Change in voice
  • Numbness of the mouth or tongue
  • Pain or bleeding in the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaws or tongue
  • Ear or jaw pain
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Changes in speech
  • Loosening of teeth or toothache
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Tests and diagnosis of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer

Your doctor may suggest the following tests to diagnose oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer:
  • Physical examination: If you show signs of oral or oropharyngeal cancer, your doctor will take a complete medical history, asking about the symptoms and risk factors. He/She will feel for any lumps on the neck, lips, gums, and cheeks.
  • Endoscopy: This test allows the doctor to see inside the mouth and throat. The examination has different names depending on the area of the body that is examined, such as laryngoscopy to view the larynx, pharyngoscopy to view the pharynx, or nasopharyngoscopy to view the nasopharynx.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. The type of biopsy performed will depend on the location of the cancer.
  • Oral brush biopsy: In regular dental examinations, some dentists use a newer, simple technique to detect oral cancer in which the dentist uses a small brush to gather cell samples of a suspicious area. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs. This test can detect the spread of cancer to the lymph nodes in the neck, called the cervical lymph nodes.

Treatment options for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer

Major treatment options for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer include the following:

Surgery: Surgery is the removal of the tumour and some surrounding healthy tissue. Different operations are performed for the removal of oral and oropharyngeal cancer.
  • The tumour and a margin of healthy tissue are removed to decrease the chance that any cancerous cells will be left behind.
  • Partial or total removal of the tongue.
  • If the tumour has entered a jawbone but not spread into the bone, then a piece of the jawbone or the whole jawbone will be removed.
  • It may be necessary to remove some or all of these lymph nodes if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • A laryngectomy is the complete or partial removal of the larynx or voice box.

Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. It can either be given externally or internally.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. The use of chemotherapy in combination with radiation therapy is often recommended.

Immunotherapy: Also known as biologic therapy, it is designed to boost the body’s natural defences to fight cancer.

Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival.

After treatment ends, talk with your doctor about developing a follow-up care plan. This plan may include regular physical examinations and medical tests to monitor your recovery for the coming months and years.