Oral cancer treatment and reconstruction: Mayo Clinic Radio
How to Treat Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is a cancer of the mouth that can spread to other parts of the body. To combat the spread of malignant cancer cells, your doctor may suggest chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or biological medications. You may need to undergo a surgery to remove any tumors. Oral cancer stages range from I (the lowest) to IV (the most critical). The stage of your diagnosis will greatly shape your treatment plan. Fortunately, there are a wide number of options available to treat your cancer.
Pursuing Surgical Treatment
Get a sample via diagnostic biopsy.Your doctor may suggest a biopsy if they're unsure about the exact type of cancer or tumors in your body. They will remove some tissue from your mouth or throat using a needle and send it off for analysis. In some cases, you’ll need to be put under for a biopsy if a larger sample is required or if the sampling location is difficult to access.
Agree to preventive surgery to remove potentially malignant areas.If you have been diagnosed with oral cancer, surgery can help prevent it from spreading. With a preventive surgery, your doctor will inspect your mouth and throat and remove any potentially harmful tissue.
- You will need to be under general anesthesia for preventive oral surgery. Talk with your doctor about the risks and rewards.
Agree to curative surgery to remove malignant tissue.If your doctor believes that your tumor is located in just 1 area of your oral cavity, then they might suggest curative surgery. During this surgery, your doctor will remove the entire tumor. When followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy, this can give you a better chance of recovering.
- Similarly, in a debulking surgery your doctor will try to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Then, they will use chemotherapy or radiation therapy to try to reduce the remaining cancerous areas.
Get restorative surgery to fix any damage from treatment.A plastic surgeon or other specialist can add bone grafts or even fit with you with prosthetics for your mouth. These procedures may help you get closer to comfortably eating, drinking, and speaking.
- A dental specialist may also be able to fit you with implants if your teeth or gums have been affected by treatment or cancer.
Using Treatment Therapies or Medications
Undergo radiation therapy to shrink or eliminate any malignant cells.With radiation treatment, you’ll be exposed to ionizing radiation, which will kill off the cells of a tumor and slow any future growth. Depending on your doctor’s suggestion, you may have therapy for 5 days in a row with a 2 day break for a number of weeks.
- Each daily session usually lasts around 10-15 minutes. You’ll be fitted with protective gear by the radiation therapist before starting.
Undergo chemotherapy if your cancer is in multiple locations.It involves the use of chemicals to weaken and kill off harmful cancer cells. Each treatment cycle lasts between 2-6 weeks. During those weeks you may have treatments daily or weekly. A treatment involves drugs being given via pills or intravenously through an IV.
- Radiation therapy and surgery are more appropriate if your cancer is located in a single specific area. But, if your cancer is spreading, then chemotherapy may be used to stop this advance.
- Each treatment session may last minutes or even hours. Talk with your prior to a session, so that you’ll know what to expect.
Take a medicine as part of a targeted cancer therapy.Medical therapies focus on interfering with the growth and spread of cancer cells. They may block the proteins necessary for cell growth or stop a cell’s ability to get blood circulation. Discuss with your doctor how long you’ll need to take any medications, the dosage instructions, and any side effects.
- For example, “small-molecule” drugs inhibit cell growth by eliminating enzymes. “Angiogenesis inhibitors” starve malignant cells of blood until they shrink and die.
- You’ll generally need to take these drugs at the same time every day for a number of weeks. It’s also best to avoid drinking alcohol or taking supplements while using cancer medications.
Undergo photodynamic therapy (PDT).If you have a history of cancer, then your doctor may suggest PDT. This therapy works by exposing surface lesions around your mouth to a powerful light. This light helps to destroy these potentially dangerous cells, but it can also cause some damage to the surrounding areas.
- After therapy, you’ll need to stay away from all light sources for a certain period of time or risk serious sunburns.
Developing and Preparing for a Treatment Plan
Understand the various stages of cancer.Your doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals will discuss your cancer in terms of stages, so it’s important to know what they are referring to. Oral cancer stages go from I to IV. “I” indicates a lower stage of confined cancer, whereas “IV” means an even more serious cancer that has spread.
Get imaging tests.X-rays, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computerized tomography (CT) scans all help your doctors to determine the stage and spread of your cancer. This is especially important when working with oral cancer in order to monitor for growths.
- Depending on your initial diagnosis, you may not need each of these tests. Or, you may need to get the same type of test multiple times.
- All of these tests have their own requirements for the patient. For example, you can’t bring any metal objects near an MRI machine. Ask your doctor about what you’ll need to do.
Let your doctor inspect your mouth and throat with a camera.If your doctor suspects oral cancer or another mouth/throat ailment, then they may suggest an endoscopy. This is an in-office procedure where your doctor slides a tiny, flexible camera into your mouth and throat. The camera’s light allows your doctor to do a surface inspection of these areas.
- An endoscopy is usually pretty painless and doesn’t require that you take any pain medication. However, if you are nervous or anxious about this procedure, ask your doctor for medication options.
Ask about any side effects of treatment.Most cancer treatments are beneficial, but they all come with varying side effects. Talk with your doctor about all of the possible side effects before agreeing to any course of action. For example, radiation therapy for oral cancer can damage your salivary glands, making it necessary for you to have corrective surgery later.
Maintain excellent oral hygiene.During your oral cancer treatment, the risk of getting other mouth or throat infections rises. Make sure to brush and floss at least 3 times a day during treatment. Rinse your mouth with a prescription mouthwash, if provided by your doctor. This lowers the possibility of a lingering bacterial or fungal infection mid-treatment.
Stop using any tobacco products.Pipes, chewing tobacco, cigars, snuff, and cigarettes have all been linked to the development of oral cancer. Quit any of these products as early as you can. They lower the effectiveness of any cancer treatment and slow down your body’s ability to heal after surgery or therapy. Talk with your doctor about a safe alternative, such as a special gum.
- You may also want to consider joining a medical study of oral cancer. Study patients often have access to the newest cancer treatments.
- It may be difficult, but try to keep your attitude as positive as possible. A positive mental state can actually improve your odds of recovery.
Video: Oral Cancer Patients Face Better Outcomes
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