oral cancer

causes of oral cancer

Oral cancers are frequently encountered, and in some tropical countries like India form the single most common group of cancers in any region in the body.

Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, cheeks, tongue and jawbones, the pharynx and the larynx.


Causes of oral cancer

  • Eighty percent of these cancers are related to tobacco use, either by smoking or chewing. Persons chewing the betel leaf (paan) are also at increased risk.

  • Alcohol by itself may not cause these cancers, but it aggravates the effects of tobacco in causing cancer. Alcohol however does cause cancer of the esophagus.

  • Repeated irritation of the mouth from sharp edges of broken teeth or from poorly fitting dentures can also cause oral cancer.

  • Vitamin A deficiency, and to a lesser extent vitamin C deficiency can also cause cancer, especially in the esophagus.

  • Some diseases such as leukoplakia and oral submucous fibrosis predispose to the occurrence of oral cancers.



Males are more often affected than females. The symptoms from these cancers include nonhealing ulcers in the oral cavity, bleeding from the mouth, increasing swelling in or around the mouth, white or red patches in the mouth, difficulty in swallowing or pain during swallowing, change in voice or hoarseness, and difficulty in breathing. Any person who has one or more of these symptoms should consult his physician.



Most of these cancers can be diagnosed easily using simple tests. Some tumours are readily accessible, and can be felt externally or seen on opening the mouth. A biopsy, or fine needle aspiration cytology can be done for diagnosis from the tumour mass. Deep seated tumours such as those of the larynx need mirrors and lights for visualization.

In many patients tests like CT scan and MRI will be needed to determine the extent of the disease, so that decisions can be made regarding operability.



Most cancers of the head and neck are treated by a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In early stages surgery may be curative. Unfortunately surgery is occasionally mutilating, and may need extensive plastic surgery for reconstruction.

Cancers of the head and neck are curable provided they are caught early and treated adequately. Avoiding tobacco, maintaining a proper dental hygeine and proper attention to nutrition will go a long way in preventing these tumours.



Dr Suneet Sood, MBBS (AIIMS), MS (AIIMS), MAMS, is a practising surgeon attached to Dharamshila Cancer Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and to Noida Medicare Center. Formerly Professor of Surgery, Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences, Dehradun, Dr Sood has a special interest in gastrointestinal surgery. He has had an active academic career, has published several papers in national and international journals, and is the Editor (with Dr Anurag Krishna) of a widely acclaimed book titled Surgical Diseases in Tropical Countries.
Contact Nos: 2486788, 9811052966, suneetsood@vsnl.com

Editorial board:

Dr Suneet Sood,MS, MAMS, Editor in chief
Dr Anurag Krishna, MS, MCh, MAMS

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Last revised: May 12, 2000