Oral Cancer

Some basic facts about oral cancer.

When oral cancer spreads, it usually travels through the lymphatic system. Cancer cells that enter the lymphatic system are carried along by lymph, an almost colorless, watery fluid containing cells that help the body fight infection and disease. Along the lymphatic channels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands). Oral cancer that spreads usually travels to the lymph nodes in the neck, but it can also spread to other parts of the body.

Preparing for Treatment

Many people with cancer want to learn all they can about the disease and their treatment choices so they can take an active part in decisions about their medical care. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, shock and stress are natural reactions. These feelings may make it difficult to think of everything to ask the doctor. Often, it helps to make a list of questions. To help remember what the doctor says, patients may take notes or ask whether they may use a tape recorder. Some people also want to have a family member or friend with them when they talk to the doctor—to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.

People do not need to ask all of their questions or remember all of the answers at one time. Questions may arise throughout the treatment process. Patients and caregivers may ask doctors, nurses, or other members of the health care team to explain things further or to provide more information.

These are some questions a patient may want to ask the doctor before treatment begins:

  • What is the diagnosis?
  • What is the stage of the disease?
  • What is the grade of the disease?
  • What are the treatment choices? Which do you recommend? Why?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will be successful?
  • What new treatments are being studied in clinical trials? Would a clinical trial be appropriate?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • Will treatment affect my normal activities? If so, for how long?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost?

Follow-up Care

Regular follow-up exams are very important for anyone who has been treated for oral cancer. The physician and the dentist watch the patient closely to check the healing process and look for signs that the cancer may have returned. Patients with mouth dryness from radiation therapy should have dental exams three times a year.

The patient may need to see a dietitian if weight loss or eating problems continue. Most doctors urge their oral cancer patients to stop using tobacco and alcohol to reduce the risk of developing a new cancer.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from information in the What You Need to Know About™ Cancer series, published by the National Cancer Institute.

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