If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with oral cancer, the following weeks and months can be scary and uncertain. Your dentist and doctor will work together to prescribe the best treatment plan, and once your dentist has determined that your teeth are healthy enough to undergo radiation or chemotherapy, your treatment will begin. There is some good news: most oral cancers, when identified in an early stage, yield a survival rate above 80%. Even in later stages, you and your dentist can discuss combining two or more treatment methods to improve your prognosis.
For early stages of cancer, in which the tumor is small and hasn’t spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body, radiation therapy may cause the cancer to recede without requiring surgery or chemotherapy. There are two types of radiation therapy available to cancer patients.
- External beam radiation: this is the more traditional type of radiation therapy, wherein x-rays or radiation particles are beamed to the cancer site to damage the cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.
- Brachytherapy: radioactive wires are stuck directly into the tumor, which allows the radiation to directly penetrate the cancer cells. This treatment often requires general anesthetic.
In cases of mild to intermediate cancers, radiation may be used in conjunction with surgical removal of the tumor.
Radiation can cause localized side effects, including tooth decay, mouth sores or bleeding gums, jaw stiffness, and bodily fatigue. Because radiation is tough on your body, your teeth may begin to decay. Your dentist will remove any unhealthy teeth before starting radiation treatment, and you may need dental implants or dentures after treatment is complete.
If the cancerous tumor has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body, your doctor may recommend surgical removal. For some small tumors, only a minor surgery is required, but in cases of larger tumors or advanced cancers, parts of the tongue or jawbone may need to be removed or reconstructed.
Sometimes, surgery can severely impact the appearance of your face or neck, and can make it difficult to talk and eat. In most cases, once the tumor has been removed and radiation treatment has been completed, a tissue graft can repair the damaged parts of your face.
To treat advanced or widespread cancers, chemotherapy can be combined with radiation therapy or surgery to remove and treat cancerous growths. Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment that can also damage healthy cells and cause severe side effects, but may be necessary if your doctor determines that your cancer is advanced and likely to return.
During chemotherapy, you may experience severe side effects including:
- Bodily fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair and nail loss
- Increased risk of infection from a weakened immune system
Before undergoing chemotherapy, make sure you talk to your doctor about how to deal with the side effects and keep your mouth and body as healthy as possible during treatment.
Although most early stages of mouth cancer have a positive prognosis, it’s essential to see your doctor as soon as you notice any abnormal signs in your mouth or throat. Decrease your risk of developing oral cancer by avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol, sun exposure to the face and lips, and by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Have questions about your oral cancer treatment? Call Countryside Dental Group today.