April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and oral surgery plays a large part in the treatment and recovery of oral cancer. Once oral cancer is diagnosed in a patient, an oncologist and often an oral surgeon will do all they can to remove the cancer. These treatments are extremely invasive yet are often the only way to send a patient into remission and on the way to a cancer-free life.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is a form of cancer that affects the oral and surrounding tissues. It is caused by damage to the DNA of these tissues and can damage the immune system and become fatal. Every year 49,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some type of oral cancer, and in this same year nearly 10,000 cases of oral cancer will prove to be fatal. Doctors and researchers believe the cause of this fatality rate is due to late diagnosis. The earlier cancer is detected, the better chances oral surgeons and oncologists have at removing and killing any remaining cancerous cells.

Oral cancer is a particularly difficult cancer to discover and treat for many reasons. First the symptoms of oral cancer can mimic those of less serious dental diseases. Sore throat can be a symptom of a bacterial infection and oral cancer. Similarly, sores that form on the tongue or in oral tissues can be symptoms of a viral infection such as a canker sore, or something much more sinister like oral cancer. This is one of the most important reasons that oral cancer screenings are so important. If any of the symptoms of oral cancer lasts longer than two weeks it is important to see your dentist for a screening. An oral cancer screening consists of a detailed examination of the oral tissues. If anything suspicious is noted, your dentist will run further tests such as biopsies to determine if your symptoms point to cancer.

Treating Oral Cancer

Once oral cancer is detected and confirmed your oral surgeon and oncologist will work together to create a treatment plan. Understanding the stages of oral cancer exhibited in a patient will greatly inform how the patient and oral surgeon will proceed. Cancer is categorized into seven stages:  stage 0, I, II, III, IV, IVA, IVB. In early stages it is much easier to remove oral cancer. An oral surgeon can surgically strip cancer from any tissue in in stage 0, however as it progresses into stage I and further, the use of surgery in conjunction with radiation and/or chemotherapy  is common. Depending on your diagnosis and the severity of cancer, surgery is often the first step of treatment. Removing as many cancerous cells from the body with surgery is the first way in which most cancer patient are treated. Removing masses from the tongue, cheeks, gums, tonsils, and lips can be a small drop in the bucket of treatment. Depending again, on the stage and severity of cancer surgery may be all the patient needs. However this is rarely the case. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are commonly used to kill the cells. Unfortunately these therapies are not currently able to target only cancer cells and can cause the death of many other cells. It’s these types of therapies that are able to stop a cancer from growing but also cause illness in patients.

An oral surgeon will always be called in to remove cancerous tumors from a patient’s oral cavity. Their unique and exact knowledge of how the oral tissues function together aids their decisions in the type of surgery necessary to eradicate it from the body and provide the most positive outcomes for the remaining therapies.

Oral surgeons are also called upon to help patients in their rehabilitation after becoming cancer-free. During cancer treatment a patient’s body will be significantly altered, especially if large amounts of tissues must be removed. During cancer treatments compromised teeth must also be removed to set the stage for an effective treatment. After fighting the disease, and conquering cancer, patients often want their teeth replaced. Oral surgeons are able to provide their patients with bone and tissues grafts, intraoral prosthetics, dentures, and dental implants to help them transition into their new life, cancer free.

Next month, take some time to stop by your Melbourne, Florida oral surgeon’s practice for an oral cancer screening. He can inform you on how oral surgeons are integral to the healing and treatment of oral cancer.