All you need to know about Jaw cancer- Symptoms, causes and treatments

Jaw cancer, also known as oral cancer or oropharyngeal cancer, is a condition that affects the tissues of the jaw and mouth. It is a serious medical condition that requires timely diagnosis and treatment. The primary causes of jaw cancer are often related to lifestyle choices, such as tobacco and alcohol use, but certain genetic and environmental factors can also contribute. Recognizing the symptoms of jaw cancer is crucial for early detection and intervention. With advances in medical technology and ongoing research, effective treatments and improved outcomes are possible for individuals diagnosed with jaw cancer.

Symptoms

Most of the time symptoms of most harmful diseases are very minimal and we keep avoiding them and in return of that carelessness we face terrible results.

  • Persistent pain -One can face constant pain in the jaw, mouth, or throat that won’t dilute even after having a traditional method for relief, and with time it may also radiate to the ears or neck.
  • Swelling or lump – Having a lump or swelling in the jaw or neck which doesn’t fade off with time and instead is accompanied by a feeling of tenderness or pressure can be a perfect sign of cancer.
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing – Jaw cancer makes it difficult to swallow or chew food and that significantly results in potential weight loss with a constant feeling of something stuck in the neck.
  • Changes in dental health – If there’s an abnormal loosening of teeth or bleeding in gums accompanied by bad breath then it’s a sign of cancer. Even ulcers that are not cured with time are evaluated by the same.
  • Change in speech – Jaw cancer can result in a change of speech such as a slurred or unclear voice affected by some ulcer or tumor affecting movement of the tongue or a change in jaw structure.

Causes and risk factors

Factors resulting in jaw cancer are mostly unclear but here are some probable causes that are understood with most cases till now.

  • Tobacco and alcohol use – One of the most common reasons is the consumption of tobacco and alcohol as the chemicals used in it can damage the DNA resulting in abnormal growth of cells
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection – Certain stretches of HPV mainly HPV-16 can cause oral cancer which is transmitted through sexual contact.
  • Sun exposure – Direct contact of UV rays to lips can increase the risk of having oral cancer as the radiation may affect the lip which may later spread to the jaw.
  • Increasing age – With increasing age and most commonly in men there is a risk of having cancer due to hormonal changes, lifestyle factors, and genetic disparity.

How is jaw cancer diagnosed?

Generally diagnosing a jaw cancer requires following a certain process to get to the end and final results which are listed below.

  • Physical treatment – The first step includes a physical process by healthcare professionals where they examine a mouth, jaw, and neck for abnormal lumps swelling, or changes in tissue where they also scan any ulcer, gum bleeding, or sore tongue.
  • Biopsy – If during physical treatment any doubtful tissue is found then a small sample of it is scratched out and sent to labs to test and examine under a microscope for finding out any cancerous cells.
  • Imaging test – After the biopsy, if there are any cancerous cells then they are carried out for imaging tests which are done by X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or PET to know the extent of the cancer, including its size and if it has spread to other areas of the body.

Treatment

Best jaw cancer treatment depends upon the individual patient’s condition and factors such as the stage of cancer, its location, and the overall health of the patient, treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

  • Surgery – It is one of the best ways to eliminate cancer as in surgery the goal is to completely remove the tumor, surrounding tissues, and any affected area. The extent of the surgery depends upon the area and location of the cancer as in some cases entire jaw bone may be required to remove or restructured with techniques such as bone grafts or dental implants,
  • Radiation therapy – In the process high levels of radiation rays are used to destroy the cancer cells, it may be used before surgery to destroy and shrink the cells after surgery to kill the remaining cells or can be used as a primary treatment where the surgery is not feasible. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is often utilized to precisely target the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
  • Chemotherapy – This the process where drugs are used to kill the cells or stagnant their growth, chemo can be also be used along with surgery and radiation as the choice of chemotherapy drugs depends on the specific type and stage of the cancer
  • Targeted therapy – This therapy includes drugs that target only required molecule pathways involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Eventually, these drugs block the signal that promotes cancer cell or trigger immune responses, it is used particularly for patients with specific genetic mutations or biomarkers.
  • Immunotherapy – This therapy approaches the body’s natural immune system to fight with the cells, Immune checkpoint inhibitors, such as PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors, are commonly used in the treatment of advanced or recurrent jaw cancer. They help to restore and enhance the immune response against cancer cells.

Moreover, along with following proper treatment modalities, supportive care and Rehabilitation programs play a vital role in healing the wound where managing symptoms, maintaining oral hygiene, ensuring adequate nutrition, and addressing any psychosocial or emotional needs of the patient are included in supportive care while are speech therapy, swallowing therapy, and dental prosthetics included in Rehabilitation programs.

Every jaw cancer case is highly personalized according to the need and during recovery stages, regular follow-up visits and surveillance are crucial to monitor the patient’s progress, detect any signs of recurrence, and manage any treatment-related side effects.