How is Oral Cancer Treated?

There are two main ways in which oral cancer is treated. These are:

  • Radiotherapy. This causes cell death through DNA damage. It targets malignant cells more than normal cells by exploiting the fact that they divide more rapidly.
  • Surgery. Here the aim is to remove the tumour with the largest possible area around it.Generally in the body 3cm is a guide, but in the head and neck region, with so many vital structures around, it is normally only possible with a few millimetres.
  • Or a combination of both. Surgery with radiotherapy, either before or after the procedure.

The treatment chosen depends on many factors including the location, size, type and extent of the tumour (stage of the disease); the age, health and wishes of the patient.

A team approach is required to manage any oral cancer case and this will involve a surgeon, radiotherapist, pathologist, medical oncologist, speech therapist, specialist nurses and a dentist.

If it is caught too late, you may not benefit from treatment, then palliative and supportive care are the best options.

Surgery can cause severe cosmetic and functional defects that are unacceptable to some patients-for example, possibly losing an eye or a large part of the tongue making normal swallowing, eating and speaking impossible.

Radiotherapy also has significant unpleasant and painful side effects and should not be seen as the lighter option. Most patients will require both types of treatment.

It is far beyond the scope of this website to delve into the specifics of cancer management. Suffice to say it is very nasty and treatment will have wide reaching social and lifestyle impacts.

Living with a serious disease like oral cancer is not easy and my heart goes out to anybody touched by it. If you would like to share your story to help others, we would love to hear from you. Sometimes it is only when someone you know or a member of your family is diagnosed that the reality hits home.

Assuming you don’t currently suffer, please do yourself a favour and read how to help prevent oral cancer and tell your friends and loved ones…. Face Book can wait 10 minutes- this might save your life.

If you would like more information, I would recommend visiting the National Cancer Institute website and reading the following two publications- they are the most comprehensive I have found:
Publication 1
Publication 2