Risk of oral cancer is high for smokers, but the disease is largely preventable

Oral cavity cancer, also known as oral cancer, includes a range of cancers that form in the mouth, with common sites including the lips, tongue, and gums. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Breathing, talking, chewing, swallowing, and even smiling — our mouths allow us to do so much. But imagine if all these functions that we take for granted became difficult, laborious, or even impossible. Mouth cancer and some of its treatments can take away the ability to perform most of these tasks, making everyday functioning a struggle. Even sadder is the fact that almost all cases of the cancer, which is more common than you might think, are preventable. اضافة اعلان

The second most common cause of mortality globally, cancer is a major medical concern that has sparked thousands of studies and the development of numerous treatments. When it comes to prevention and treatment, one of the greatest difficulties is the number of physical systems susceptible to the abnormal cell growth; most other conditions are restricted to a single body part, organ, or system. Cancer can affect any part of the body and — worse yet — can spread to nearly any part of the body.

Oral cavity cancer, also known as oral cancer, includes a range of cancers that form in the mouth. It is the 11th most common form of cancer in men worldwide. Of the many parts that make up the mouth, nearly all are susceptible to cancer. Common sites for the condition include the lips, tongue, and gums, but it can also occur in the inner lining of the lips and cheek, known as the buccal mucosa, the hard palate on the roof of the mouth, and the salivary glands.

The warning signs
There are many signs and symptoms of oral cancer, but unfortunately, these phenomena are also extremely broad and be indicative of other diseases, making awareness crucial to early detection. One common symptom of oral cancer is a sore that does not heal in any part of the mouth. The condition may also start out as a lump or a white or red patch.
70.3% of Jordanian men between the ages of 18 and 44 are smokers
As the disease progresses, you may start to experience difficulty or pain while chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue. Additionally, you may notice numbness or swelling in any part of the mouth. In later stages, you may experience pain around the teeth, or they may loosen and eventually fall out. Other nonspecific symptoms may include weight loss or pain in the ear. If you notice one or more of these symptoms for two or more weeks, consult your primary care physician or dentist.

Complications: physical and mental
A number of complications may arise either directly from the cancer or from its treatment. Surgery is a common approach to remedying oral cancer, especially for later stages requiring the removal of affected tissue. However, the mouth is small, and all of its tissues are connected to essential parts. As a result, one of the most common complications of surgery is dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, when tissues that allow this function have been removed. Some methods of therapy can help remedy this issue, but patients with severe dysphagia may require a feeding tube.

Another similar complication of oral cancer is difficulty talking. Speech relies on all parts of the mouth and is a complex process. Initially, there may be drastic changes in the pronunciation of certain sounds, but with therapy, you can regain some speech functions.

Lastly, oral cancer can have a heavy impact on mental health and overall well-being. In general, cancer commonly affects mental well-being negatively, especially when it is life-threatening. The thought of coming death can take a huge psychological toll. However, once in remission, most cancer patients end up developing a positive outlook on life. But with the many lifestyle-impacting complications of oral cancer, it may still have negative effects on mental health even after patients enter remission due to changes in the face or speech.

How it starts
As is the case with all forms of the disease, there is no single cause for oral cancer, but instead, a combination of genetic and environmental factors may lead to a diagnosis. Although oral cancer is strongly connected to certain environmental factors, you can still develop it even if no common factors apply.

The greatest risk factor for oral cancer is tobacco and alcohol use. Extensive research has explored the link between tobacco and oral cancer. It has been found that all forms of tobacco products can cause oral cancer, and the longer and broader the history, the greater the risk. In particular, oral tobacco products carry a very high risk of cancer in the cheeks, gums, and inner lining of the lips.

Similarly, pipe smoking brings a very high risk of cancer in parts of the lips that come into contact with the pipe. Studies have shown that long-term second-hand smoke exposure (i.e., smoke inhaled from other people nearby) may also increase the risk of oral cancer.

Meanwhile, studies relating to alcohol consumption have shown that heavy consumption puts you at a higher risk compared to occasional drinkers. The highest risk is for those who both drink heavily and smoke, with their estimated risk 30 times greater than that of people who neither drink nor smoke.

Diet may also play a role in the development of oral cancer. Although more research is needed, a dietary deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, may increase the risk of oral cancer.

Certain biological factors may also raise the risk of oral cancer. Statistically speaking, oral cancer is twice as common in men as in women. However, this may be due to the fact that smoking and drinking is more common among men than in women. Additionally, genetics may play a role. Generally, it is believed that inherited gene mutations are responsible for some (rare) cases of oral cancer. This may be due to the fact that mutations can be responsible for difficulties in breaking down toxins or making people more susceptible to the effects of tobacco and alcohol. Other inherited genetic conditions such as Fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenita may also increase the risk for oral cancer.

Oral cancer in Jordan
According to statistics released by the Ministry of Health in 2020, 70.3 percent of Jordanian men between the ages of 18 and 44 were current smokers at the time. Additionally, 3.1 percent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 44 were drinkers, 29.7 percent of whom were considered to be heavy drinkers. Consequently, one would assume that the prevalence oral cancer in Jordan is relatively high.

However, data collected by the World Health Organization says otherwise. Globally, oral cancer affects six out of every 100,000 men and 2.3 out of every 100,000 women. In Jordan, oral cancer affects only 1.7 in every 100,000 men and one in every 100,000 women. This makes oral cancer only the 21st most common form of cancer in Jordan — 23rd in terms of mortality. It is important to note that there are explanations for why Jordan has a relatively low incidence rate — partaking in particular lifestyle choices, such as smoking or drinking, can still increase your risk.

Although oral cancer may not be as prevalent in Jordan as other parts of the world, there is one growing cause for concern. Studies have shown that oral cancer is becoming increasing prevalent among younger generations. It is thought that changes in lifestyle have increased the risk. A 2014 study evaluated the relationship between smoking and age of diagnosis in Jordan. It found that the more frequently participants smoked (either cigarettes, hookah, or both), the younger they were diagnosed with oral cancer. 

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