Head and Neck Cancer Introduction Page
The oral cavity includes the lips, gums, front part (anterior) of the tongue, floor of mouth, hard palate and inner surface of the cheeks.
Patients who use tobacco (especially cigarettes and chewing tobacco) or who drink alcohol excessively have a higher rate of developing oral cancers. The combination of both tobacco and alcohol use markedly increases the possibility of having oral cancer. Poor oral hygiene may also be a factor. Although oral cancers usually occur in people over the age of 40, people younger than 40 may also be effected.
Many oral cavity cancers are detected by a primary care physician or dentist before symptoms develop. When the signs and symptoms of oral cavity cancer do develop, they may vary according to the site and size of the tumor. The signs and symptoms include a painful, non-healing or enlarging sore; bloody saliva; oral discomfort associated with opening the mouth, moving the tongue, or swallowing; a white or red area that persists; dentures that no longer fit properly; and enlarging neck glands.
These scans complement each other by providing specific information about the tumor, which will eventually determine the best course of treatment. Sometimes a fine needle aspiration biopsy will be performed on a mass or lymph node to define the extent of tumor. A fine needle aspiration biopsy involves inserting a small needle into the mass and withdrawing cells. The pathologist examines these cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous.
In certain circumstances, radiation therapy may be used instead of surgery as the primary treatment. Advanced tumors may require initial treatment with radiation and/or chemotherapy. Surgery may or may not be used, depending on the extent of the tumor. At Continuum Cancer Centers, an experimental protocol is being used in some advanced tongue cancer patients. It consists of radiation therapy and high dose chemotherapy injected into the blood supply to the tumor in those patients where initial surgery might result in major sacrifice of the tongue tissue.
Click Here for more information about radiation oncology treatments for head and neck cancer.
After treatment is completed, the patient enters the follow-up phase.
Usually, all of the treating physicians are involved in follow-up evaluations.
For the first year, patients are usually seen every one to two months.
During the second year, they are often seen every two to three months.
After the second year, patients are usually seen every three to six months.
Of course, the follow-up schedule is individualized for each patient.