Cancer of the Mouth and Treatment

Cancer of the oral cavity (mouth) includes cancer of the:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Under the tongue (floor of mouth)
  • Jaw-upper and lower jaws (mandible and maxilla)
  • Inside of the cheeks (buccal cancer)
  • Hard palate
cancer of the mouth 1

What does cancer inside the mouth look like?

Cancer of the oral cavity usually presents with an ulcer, white patch or lump inside the mouth. It may be painful or painless. Sometimes there are problems chewing or swallowing food. Sometimes the only symptom is a lump in the neck.

What causes cancer of the oral cavity?

Cancer of the oral cavity is strongly associated with smoking and heavy or very regular drinking of alcohol, although some patients neither smoke or drink alcohol.

How is cancer of the oral cavity diagnosed?

If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, Dr. Hall can help you. He will:

  • Take a careful history
  • Perform a thorough physical examination, which will include flexible endoscopy
  • Perform ultrasound and ultrasound guided biopsy, fine needle aspiration (FNA)of any neck lumps – a sample of neck lump is sent to the      laboratory for examination under a microscope.
  • Take a biopsy (a small piece) of the area of concern in the mouth. The pathologist will be able to tell if there is cancer present.

Dr. Hall may request CT and an MRI scan.

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Treatment for Cancer of the Mouth

How is cancer of the oral cavity treated?

Before starting treatment, all the results (FNA, pathology report of biopsy, CT and MRI) are reviewed at the head and neck multidisciplinary meeting (MDM) by a team of doctors including radiologists, pathologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists. Recommendations for treatment are made. Usually, the recommendation is to excise the cancer with a margin of healthy tissue and perform a neck dissection. Radiation and or chemotherapy may be required afterwards depending on the final pathology report.

If a large part of the oral cavity is excised, then the area is reconstructed with tissue taken from other parts of the body. Sometimes the tissue can be taken from the neck and rotated into place without disturbing the blood supply of the tissue. Other times tissue is taken from further away along with its artery and vein which are then joined to an artery and vein in the neck (free flap surgery / microvascular surgery).

For larger cancers, rehabilitation involves working with a speech therapist to learn how to swallow and talk again. A dietician and physiotherapist are also involved. Treatment of cancer of the head and neck involves a team of dedicated health professionals to get the best results.

If you are experiencing symptoms of cancer of the mouth, please ask your GP for a referral and call our team on (09) 281 2963 or book an appointment online.