Oral Cancer

Types of Cancer

Oropharyngeal and Oral Cancer

When considering cancer in the neck and head region, oral cavity cancer and oropharynx cancer are two of the most common cancers to occur in this region. Both the oropharynx and oral cavity are essential elements of the body, giving humans the ability to breathe, talk, chew and swallow. The oral cavity is made up of several sections, including the lips, the buccal mucosa, gingiva (gums), the front two-thirds of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the hard palate and the area behind the wisdom teeth known as the retromolar trigone. The oropharynx begins at the end of the oral cavity and includes the soft palate located at the back of the mouth, tonsils, the base of the tongue, the throat behind the mouth.

When the healthy cells in the oral cavity and/or oropharynx begin to rapidly grow and change uncontrollably, a tumour that is either cancerous or benign can grow. Approximately 90% of cancers found in the oral and oropharyngeal parts of the body are squamous cell carcinomas. These cells are the flat cells located in the lining of both the throat and mouth.  Oral and oropharyngeal cancers are often grouped together in definitions, however it is important for oncologists to differentiate between the origin of two cancers when found as the treatment path may differ depending on the location of the original tumour.

Some of the most common oral cancer locations include the tongue, the tonsils, the gums, the floor of the mouth and the oropharynx.

Signs and symptoms of Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer

There are several possible symptoms of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. A patient may experience a range of these, or none at all. There are other reasons that a person may experience these symptoms, so it is important to note that if these occur this does not solely indicate cancer. Typically, a dentist is the first person to notice oropharyngeal or oral cancer during a routine visit. It is important to speak with your GP if you have any of the following:

  • A consistent sore in the mouth that will not heal
  • Patches on the tongue, gums, lining of the mouth or tonsils that are white or red in colour
  • Ongoing sore throat
  • The sensation that something is constantly stuck in your throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Change in voice
  • Changes in speech
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Numbness in the mouth or tongue
  • A lump in the mouth, neck, lip or throat
  • Pain and/or bleeding in the mouth
  • Ear or jaw pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficultly eating or moving the jaw and tongue
  • Toothaches
  • Loosening of teeth
  • Dentures no longer fitting

All signs and symptoms should be discussed with your doctor as they may provide some insight into an underlying condition, be it cancer or another medical condition. If/when cancer is diagnosed, treatments will begin. One of the major treatments will be palliative care. This care works to relieve a patient from their symptoms and helps them live a more comfortable life whilst living with cancer.