Although tobacco usage is the most common cause of the disease, other factors, such as alcohol, human papilloma virus (HPV), or a family history of cancer may play a role in the patient’s diagnosis.
Stages of Oral Cancer
Cancer is monitored by a process known as staging that helps to determine the severity of the patient’s condition. The following stages are used in monitoring oral cancers:
- Stage I: The cancerous lesion or lump is no more than 2 centimeters and has not spread to the lymph nodes (small bean-shaped glands located throughout the body that produce and house infection-fighting cells).
- Stage II: The cancer is between 2-4 centimeters and has not spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage III: By this stage,the tumor is larger than 4 centimeters, or the cancer is any size and has spread to the lymph nodes on the same side of the neck as the cancer. (The lymph node with the cancer is less than 3 centimeters.)
- Stage IV: This is the last and most serious stage of oral cancer. By this point, either the cancer has spread to the tissue around the lip and mouth and the lymph nodes may also contain cancerous cells, the cancer is any size and has spread to more than one lymph node on the same side as the cancer or to both sides of the neck, or to any lymph node in the body that is more than six centimeters (between 2 and 3 inches).
Patients with early-stage oral cancer can expect an 80 to 90% survival rate. Most forms of oral cancer respond well to a combination of treatment that can include surgery (to remove a portion or all of the affected area), radiation, and chemotherapy to weaken and ultimately destroy any remaining malignant cells. Some patients that have had surgery may risk permanent disfigurement or less severe side effects, such as dry mouth or difficulties with swallowing.