Oral cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting a large population in India. It is estimated to account for around 30 per cent of all cancers in the country. Globally, oral cancer is considered the sixth most common type of cancer. India is reportedly the second country having the highest number of oral cancer cases with the country contributing to one-third of the total burden. Concerningly, oral cancer cases are rising at an alarming rate in the country, doctors have highlighted.
"Cases are not just rising in rural areas, but in urban areas as well. Nowadays, there is a shocking trend seen wherein youngsters in the age group of 20-30 are affected with oral cancer," said Dr Suhas Aagre, Oncologist and Hemato-Oncologist at Asian Cancer Institute.
Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is the most common form of head and neck cancer. It develops in the tissues of oral cavity (begins at the lips and extends backwards to the front part of the tonsils) or oropharynx (part of the throat). This type of cancer can spread from mouth to nose, neck area, and other parts of the body.
The use of tobacco in various forms such as gutka, zarda, mawa, kharra, khaini, cigarettes, bidi, and hookah has been identified as the major cause of oral cancer in both young and adults in India.
Dr Aagre asserted, "Tobacco is the prime cause of the occurrence of oral cancer in all age groups. All tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff, contain poisonous substances (toxins), cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), and nicotine, an addictive substance. There are at least 70 dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco products, getting exposed to these chemicals will lead to oral cancer. Chewing tobacco and keeping it for a long time in your mouth can cause a higher risk."
He added, "Other risk factors of oral cancer are poor oral hygiene, dental irritation, Human Papilloma viral infection, diabetes, and extensive usage of immunosuppressive medicines."
You may like to read
Dr Khozema Fatehi, Head & Neck Oral Oncosurgeon at SRV Hospital, Chembur, also pointed out that India has a huge burden of oral cancer cases.
"Tobacco consumption in the form of gutka or smoking is associated with a number of life-threatening conditions and diseases including cancer in people of every age group. The use of tobacco is directly associated with approximately 80 per cent of oral cancers in men and women. Youngsters are increasingly consuming smokeless tobacco either due to imitation and/or peer pressure," the expert added.
Dr Adwait Gore, Medical Oncologist, Zen Multi Speciality Hospital, Chembur, also reminded that tobacco is one of the well-known factors of oral cancer which is preventable.
"Most people with oral cancer have a history of smoking or other tobacco exposure, like chewing tobacco. Oral tobacco products (snuff, dip, spit, chew, or dissolvable tobacco) are associated with the cancers of the cheek, gums, floor of the mouth (under the tongue), and the inner surface of lips. A large number of people chew gutka, which is a mixture of betel quid and tobacco, and are prone to cancer of the mouth. Despite widespread knowledge of the risk of tobacco exposure and use, it is responsible for a plethora of diseases, an alarming death rate, economic burden, and reduced quality of life," Dr Gore added.
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer
In the beginning, signs of oral cancer may appear as white or red spots in the mouth, sore on the tongue, lip, or mouth, bleeding in the mouth, swelling in the oral area, and difficulty in swallowing.
"If you have been consuming tobacco for a long time and notice symptoms like mouth pain, lip sore, or inability to swallow, non-healing ulcers, bleeding from ulcer, development of neck swelling, change in voice, difficulty in swallowing then immediately see a doctor and get the required check-ups done," asserted Dr Aagre.
He has appealed to the people to give up on tobacco to keep oral cancer at bay. "Avoid smoking by opting for a smoking cessation therapy, get enough rest, and eat a well-balanced diet inclusive of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and pulses. Cut down on spicy, junk, oily, and processed foods, seek support and encouragement from family, and friends, and don't miss your regular dental check-ups and regular follow-ups," Dr Aagre stated.
Meanwhile, Dr Fatehi highlighted that the lack of awareness about early oral cancer symptoms is the main reason for cancer being detected at later stages.
"Early detection improves the chances of survival. The treatment of oral cancer includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Oral cancer itself is preventable, quitting tobacco and other steps can ensure cancer prevention," he concluded.