Most of us probably take our mouths for granted. We talk, eat, whistle, and sing along to the radio without giving it much thought. But what if one day you went to the dentist for a routine check-up and left with an appointment to see a cancer specialist?
How Big is Your Mouth?
In terms of cancer diagnosis, the “mouth” or “oral cavity” ranges
from the lips to the last molar, including the cheeks, gums, teeth, the part of
the tongue that is visible in a mirror (the front 2/3), the hard palate (bony
roof of the mouth).
Anything located behind the last molar is part of the “oropharynx,”
including the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, and the back
wall of the throat.
There are also 3 major salivary glands considered separate entities as well
as those of the jaw bones and muscles. The area the cancer originates (begins)
in determines the type of cancer it is.
What is Cancer?
All cancer is caused by abnormal cell division in the body’s tissue.
Normally, cells divide and reproduce in an orderly manner and on a timely
basis. If a cell mutates, it passes along the abnormalities to the cells it
reproduces. Abnormal cells reproduce at a faster rate than normal healthy ones,
causing an excess of certain cells and a deficit (shortage) of others.
The excess cells group together and create a mass known as a “tumor”.
Tumors are either malignant (cancerous) and able to metastasize
(spread) into surrounding tissues and other parts of the body or stationary and
benign (non-cancerous). Benign tumors are usually surgically removed.