Understanding Oral cancer: Symptoms, early detection, and prevention

In India, Oral cancer is a significant public health challenge that has been affecting thousands of individuals.

Oral cancer is the development of malignant tumors in the oral cavity, which includes cancer that affects the tissues and cells of the lips, tongue, gums, inner lining of the cheeks, floor of the mouth, and the roof of the mouth. In India, it is a significant public health challenge that has been affecting thousands of individuals.

With a prevalence that ranks among the highest in the world, factors such as lifestyle choices of consuming
tobacco and betel nut (paan) majorly contribute to the alarming incidence of oral cancer in the country. Apart from this, the limited awareness and access to healthcare resources further compound the issue, often results in delayed diagnosis and advanced disease stages.

Dealing with this condition in India needs a comprehensive approach, which includes widespread education on the risks and early signs, improved access to quality healthcare services, and strengthened research initiatives.


There are various symptoms that contribute to the development of oral cancer, and it is important that it is detected early. The most common symptoms include:

  • A lump or thickening in the mouth
  • Recurrent mouth sores
  • Ulcers that do not heal
  • Red or white patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Trouble swallowing or chewing
  • Chronic hoarseness, and persistent mouth sores

Other symptoms include changes in bite or dentures that no longer fit properly, as well as pain or tenderness in the mouth, ear, or throat.


Oral cancer is complex in its development, with several factors influencing its initiation. Uncontrolled unusual cell development in the oral cavity is the main cause. Several factors including the use of alcohol and tobacco products, which are known to greatly elevate risk, can affect this process.

The chance of this type of cancer transformation increases when cells in the mouth are repeatedly irritated by cigarette use, chewing tobacco, or excessive alcohol use. Another important factor in the development, particularly in the oropharyngeal region, is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

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The growth of cancer cells has been directly connected to specific HPV strains, such as HPV16. Oral cancer may also develop as a result of poor oral hygiene practices, ongoing irritation from ill-fitting dentures, or rough oral surfaces.

Risk Factors

  • It is more likely to impact a person who has several risk factors. Usage of tobacco and alcohol are the main risk factors. Smokers are six times more affected than non-smokers. Specifically, smokers who consume alcohol are affected.
  • Lip cancer can also be brought on by prolonged and intense sun exposure. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light harms the cells in the lips, eventually causing cancerous alterations. Fair skinned people, people with a history of lip burns are more likely to contract this type of cancer.
  • Oral irritation and inflammation from improper brushing and flossing can increase the risk of oral cancer by causing persistent mouth inflammation and irritation. The major factor for oropharyngeal cancer is HPV infection. One will contract HPV, and as a result, develop cancer if they have oral sex with an HPV positive partner or have multiple sexual partners.


In order to lower the prevalence of oral cancer, prevention is essential. Essential preventive actions include routine dental exams, self-mouth examinations, and upholding proper oral hygiene. Oral cancer can also be lowered by abstaining from smoking, alcohol use, practicing safe sex, and reducing sun exposure.

The prognosis is considerably improved by early detection and rapid treatment. People should be alert in identifying the symptoms and obtaining medical help if they persist. By adhering to preventive measures, people can prevent oral cancer by taking preventative measures to safeguard their oral and dental health.

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In summary, this is a serious issue that must be addressed and understood. Comprehending the causes, early screening and appropriate treatment can help an individual combat oral cancer at the earliest. An individual’s chance of acquiring oral cancer can be decreased by abstaining from cigarettes and excessive alcohol usage, maintaining good dental hygiene, protecting themselves against HPV, and avoiding the sun. For early detection, routine dental exams and oral self-examinations are also crucial.

(With inputs from Dr. Shantling Nigudgi Sr. Consultant Radiation Oncology, HCG Cancer Centre, Kalaburagi)

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