Oral cancer is a form of cancer which affects the mouth. The staging of cancer is done to determine how big the cancer is and if it has developed further and spread to the surrounding tissues or organs. There are four stages of mouth cancer – stages 1 to 4. Several doctors also consider a stage 0:

Stage 0

or carcinoma in situ (CIS): It is also referred to as a ‘pre cancer’ stage. In this, the cancerous cells are contained within the mouth’s lining. If this is not treated on time, it may grow into an invasive cancer.

Stage 1:

This is the earliest stage of mouth cancer. In this, the cancer begins to grow through the tissues which line the mouth.

Stage 2:

In this stage, the tumor grows more than 2 cm wide, but is less than 4cm.

Stage 3:

In this stage, the cancer is either bigger than 4cm but has not spread to any other part of the body or it is of any size but has spread to any one lymph node lying on the same side of the neck as the cancer.

Stage 4:

This is an advanced stage of the disease. It has 3 stages-

Stage 4a:

The cancer grows through the tissues surrounding the mouth. The lymph nodes may or may not have cancerous cells.

Stage 4b:

The cancer grows further and spreads to more than 1 lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer, or to the lymph nodes on both sides of the neck.

Stage 4c:

The cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the bones or lungs.

 

The

diagnosis

of mouth cancer involves the examination of the mouth and oral cavity. The various options available for the diagnosis of mouth cancer are-

Biopsy:

This involves taking a sample of tissues from the cancer-affected area and observing it under a microscope for any signs of cancer.

Scalpel biopsy:

This involves cutting out a circle of tissues from the cancer affected area and observing it under a microscope. This is done under local anesthesia.

Nasoendoscopy:

  In this, a narrow, flexible telescope is passed up through the patient’s nose and down the throat. The doctor can have a look at the upper air passages and the back of the patient’s throat.

Panendoscopy:

This involves inserting a series of connected tubes to have a look at the upper airways. On one end of these tubes, there is a camera and on another end is an eyepiece.

 

Treatment

The option for oral cancer is decided according to the stage of cancer which the patient is suffering from. The various methods include-

Surgery: It is the commonest method of treatment for mouth cancer.

Radiotherapy:

This is used to treat certain types of mouth cancers which have not spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy:

It is used in various situations: in combination with radiotherapy as a part of the main treatment, to treat a mouth cancer which has locally advanced or in the cases where the cancer comes back after surgery.