The earlier oral cancer is diagnosed the better the chance for a complete recovery. Many oral cancers are discovered through routine oral examinations by the dentist. If you discover symptoms at home and visit your doctor or dentist, they will probably ask about how and when you noticed the changes. Diagnosing will also include staging oral cancer. This will determine how far the cancer has spread which will help physicians to recommend treatment protocols which will be effective
Treatment for oral cancer is ideally done as a multidisciplinary approach. This means the efforts of the surgeon, radiologists, chemotherapy oncologist, dental practitioner, nutritionist and rehabilitation and restorative specialists will all be brought to bear against the treatments of the cancer. The actual treatment modalities used will usually include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy if metastasis is expected.
Specific treatment protocols will also be recommended based on the age and overall health as well as medical history of the individual who has been diagnosed. Physicians will take into account the extent of the disease and the tolerance expected from the individual for specific medications, procedures or therapies. Based on staging, doctors will look at expectations for the course of the disease and will ultimately rely upon the opinion and preference of the individual who suffers from the oral cancer.
Specific treatments which may be considered include surgical techniques used to remove the oral tumors. The first is a primary tumor resection, during which the surgeon removes the entire tumor and part of the surrounding area of tissue. Mandible resection requires the removal of all or part of the jawbone which is the essential if the cancer has invaded the bone. IMAX colectomy is the removal of the tumor and includes part or all of the hard palate (roof of the mouth).
Using micrographic surgery the surgeon may attempt removal of the tumor and slices to minimize the amount of normal tissue removed which is a procedure that may be considered when the cancer involves the lips. If there is a large tumor on the tongue, oropharynx or voicebox, a layngectomy will be considered. If physicians believe the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck these nodes will need to be removed as well.
Another treatment option is radiation therapy. During this treatment a radiologists focuses high energy x-rays designed to damage the cancer cells and halt the spread of the cancer. Radiation therapy is very localized and aimed at only the area where the cancer is present. Unfortunately, radiation therapy aimed at the mouth will often cause side effects which include oral mouth sores and tissue destruction causing the individual significant amount of pain during eating. Radiation therapy is administered using machine or an internally with radioactive material.
Chemotherapy is a treatment modality where the individual receives medications designed to kill cancer cells. The chemotherapy has the ability to interfere with the replication of the cancer cell and thereby stop its growth. Often times chemotherapy is used in conjunction with radiation and surgery.
Taking an active part in the decision making about the medical care is the essential for individuals who strive for a positive outcome. However, the shock and stress of the diagnosis can make it difficult to think of everything at once. It often helps to make a list of questions before your physician’s appointment and to bring another person with you who can help to be your advocates. Remember to take notes while the physician is speaking and it may be most helpful to bring a tape recorder so that you can listen to the information later.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for treatments. Specialist who treat oral cancer include oral and maxillofacial surgeons and otolaryngologists as well as medical oncologists and plastic surgeons. Other healthcare professionals you will want to work with your team include a dentist, speech pathologist, nutritionist and mental health counselor.
If you are not completely comfortable with the treatment protocol being recommended, ask for a second opinion about both the diagnosis and treatment plan. Some insurance companies require a second opinion and others may cover a second opinion if you or your physician requested.