Get to the root of oral cancer

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“TIME is shortening. But, every day that I challenge this cancer and surviving is a victory for me,” said Ingrid Bergman, a Swedish actress and winner of three Academy Awards. I am starting with this quote because a sufferer can understand real suffering, irrespective of his or her stature.
Oral cancer occurs in the head and neck region. In spite of its rarity, oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world and the third most common among Indian Malaysians, according to the latest report of the Health Ministry’s National Cancer Registry. It is a well-known fact that excessive tobacco smoking, betel quid chewing and consumption of alcohol are major contributing factors of oral cancer. Having said that, it is also evident that individuals who are not addicted to the above may contract it, too, because of environmental factors. Another cause of worry is the development of pre-cancerous oral lesion (leukoplakia in medical terms). It is worth mentioning that smoking is the major reason behind this development.

It must be stressed that genetic mechanism of oral cancer is still not clear.
At the same time, oral cancer cases are diagnosed later, as such, the prognosis or response to the treatment is low compared with other carcinomas. Individuals who are diagnosed with oral cancer generally die within five years of their diagnosis, while those who are successfully treated go through a harrowing recovery period. Therefore, to minimise the incidence of oral cancer in Malaysians, we should take quick action if we notice symptoms, including irritation or burning sensation in the mouth and friction of teeth with tongue. It must be emphasised that “addiction should not control us, rather we should control addiction”. If we could do so, we can minimise the risks of oral cancer. “I have advised my mother and older sisters to stop chewing betel nut. No one should get this kind of sickness,” said a 24-year-old, who was getting treatment for oral cancer at a hospital. Apart from the clinical aspects of oral cancer, the genetic pathways related to cancer progression should be traced at the earliest stage using molecular and immunological techniques. Non-governmental organisations, universities and academic institutions should enhance public awareness on early detection of oral cancer and screening. Last, but not least, we should be disciplined in our lifestyle, especially Indian Malaysians, since oral cancer is the third most common cancer in the community.

Dr Tapash Rudra,
Department of Biotechnology,
Faculty of Science, Lincoln University College.

June 11, 2020

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