Some types of cancer are on the decline throughout the entire United States. However, the number of cases involving other types of cancers is increasing. Oral cancer is one of these, and more Americans are in the high-risk groups for developing this disease than ever. There are several types of cancers that are considered oral, and the type typically depends upon the location of the disease. As with many types of cancer, the exact causes of the different forms of oral cancer are unknown to modern medicine. However, medical researchers have identified risk factors and behaviors that can put some individuals in greater danger of developing oral cancer, especially if they exhibit more than one of these components. Following is information on the different types of oral cancer, risk factors, and how to cope with a cancer diagnosis.
Types of oral cancer
According to the website of the Mayo Clinic, oral cancers, or mouth cancers as they are sometimes referred to, occur on the lips and throughout the mouth. Mouth cancers belong to a group of cancers that also include head and neck cancers, since they are often dealt with through similar kinds of treatments. Mouth cancers develop when DNA mutations occur in mouth cells which permit cancer to grow, killing healthy cells and forming one or more tumors. Types of mouth cancers include:
- Gum cancer
- Lip cancer
- Tongue cancer
- Cancer of the hard palate, or floor of the mouth
- Salivary gland cancer
- Cancer that affects the buccal mucosa, or the inside of the cheeks
Risk factors for oral cancer
Researchers have discovered that certain behaviors can raise an individual’s risk of developing any of the types of oral cancer. One of these high-risk behaviors is using any kind of tobacco product, including but not limited to chewing tobacco, snuff, cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. Another high-risk practice is drinking alcohol to excess. Additionally, excessive exposure to the sun can be a factor in the mutation of cells on the lips necessary to develop oral cancer. One risk factor that may be surprising to most people is being sexually active without using proper protection or being vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), as HPV has been linked to the development of some types of oral cancer. In fact, a recent study from the Oral Cancer Foundation shows that one fourth of all oral cancers occur in individuals who are sexually active but don’t use any tobacco products, nor do they drink alcohol.
Coping with a diagnosis
Perhaps the most important information anyone who receives a cancer diagnosis can learn is how to deal with this news. Because oral cancer can be especially difficult to cope with because the mouth involves activities important to daily life, it’s vital to find as many resources and as much support as possible during this time. The first thing to be aware of is the fact that cancer survival rates are greater than even in just the recent past. Additionally, it’s important to know that there are steps you can take to feel more in control of your situation.
First, try to learn enough factual information about your diagnosis as you can. In order to educate yourself on the specific type of oral cancer you’ve been diagnosed with, write down questions you may have, and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor all the questions on your list. It’s also helpful to find people whom you trust to talk with about your diagnosis. Family members, friends, clergy, counselors, and cancer support groups are all people you may consider talking with about how you feel at this time in your life. Additionally, it’s important that you take care of yourself while you are being treated. Eat nutritious foods; stop smoking; keep your alcohol intake to a minimum or give it up entirely, at least during treatment; get enough exercise and rest; avoid stressful situations; and take time to relax with hobbies, listening to music, reading, or any other healthy activities that help you to feel calm and pleasant. Finally, be sure to attend every appointment your doctor recommends, as subsequent examinations are important not just to your recovery, but to your peace of mind. Because it is natural to experience anxiety, talking regularly with your doctor about how you feel and about your treatment is an important part of your treatment.