Lip Cancer

1 What is a Lip Cancer?

Cancer affecting lips called lip cancer is the most common type of oral cancer.

Cancer is a group of diseases in which abnormal growth of the cells occurs at the affected site for example in the case of lip cancer the skin of  the lips of a person is crowded by abnormal cells.

It is of two types, squamous and basal cell cancer and usually (81%) affects lower lip. Smoking and tobacco intake are considered as the main cause for lip cancer.

2 Symptoms

The most common symptoms of lip cancer are similar to other types of oral cancers which may include:

  • A persistent sore or a lump on the lip
  • Persistent pain in mouth or lip
  • Bleeding from the lips
  • Numbness in the lips

Lip cancer may be mistaken for other diseases like persistent sores or long lasting toothache. Also, there are chances that you may have sores or lumps on the lips but it does not mean that you have cancer.

In some cases, the symptoms may not be noticed but a dentist can diagnose it during a routine oral examination. Therefore, it is suggested that a person should consult a doctor before coming to any conclusion.

3 Causes

The cause behind the occurrence of lip cancer can be genetic, poor lifestyle or environmental effect.

Due to some defect in genes or continuous irritation by carcinogens (chemicals which induce cancer) like tobacco, skin cells of the lips grow limitlessly and cause lip cancer.

When these abnormal cells accumulate to form a lump, it is called a tumor.

4 Making a Diagnosis

A person should consult a doctor as soon as he/she feels any abnormality on the lips. The diagnosis of lip cancer may first include the physical examination of the lips and the mouth.

The doctor will look for any kind of swelling, sores, lumps, or any other abnormality. Doctor will also enquire the patient about important information like for any kind of family history and about the medication a patient is taking.

If the doctor suspects the symptoms of the patient as an indication of lip cancer, he/she may ask the patient to go for another test for confirming an accurate diagnosis.

These diagnostic tests may include:

  • Biopsy wherein a part of the tissue is removed to be viewed under a microscope.
  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • MRI
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Endoscopy
  • Complete blood count (CBC)

5 Treatment

The approach for the treatment of lip cancer may include any of the following:

  • Surgery, in which the cancer cells are removed surgically. This is mainly performed if the tumor is small in size.
  • Radiation therapy wherein the gamma rays, ultraviolet or X-rays are used to kill the cancerous cells. This is mainly performed if the tumor is bigger in size.
  • Chemotherapy wherein the medication is used to treat the cancers. This reduces the spreading of cancer to the whole body and also prevent its returning.

Usually, the doctor opts for a combination of the above treatment approaches. If the person is a regular smoker, he/she is advised to stop smoking in order to reduce the risk of reoccurrence of cancer.

6 Prevention

The risk of lip cancer can be reduced by taking certain precautions like :

  • Quit smoking
  • Quit alcohol consumption
  • Use creams with appropriate SPF on the lips
  • Get regular oral check-ups
  • Maintain oral hygiene

7 Risks and Complications

Factors which increases the risks of lip cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Prolonged exposure to carcinogens likes tobacco
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Prolonged light exposure, both sunlight or artificial light
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Males are slightly more prone to lip cancer
  • Persons more than 40 years of age are more prone to lip cancer
  • Persons who have light or fair complexion are more prone to lip cancer

If lip cancer is not treated in time, it may spread to the other parts of the mouth, tongue and other parts of the body. But there also exists certain disadvantages associated with the treatment of lip cancer like the patient could have problems in speech, chewing and swallowing after surgery.

The radiotherapy and chemotherapy alternative may also cause following side effects:

Researchers throughout the world are working to find out the safer and effective alternative treatment options. Some of the potential fields which have shown promise to cure various types of cancers in the initial studies include immunomodulation and stem cell therapy.

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