What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer is cancerous or malignant growth in any part of the oral cavity, including the lips, upper or lower jaw, tongue, gums, cheeks, and throat.
What are some signs or symptoms of oral cancer?
Some signs of oral cancer may be:
- a red or white patch or lump anywhere in mouth for more than a month
- a sore in the mouth that bleeds easily or does not heal
- problems chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue and jaw (these are later symptoms)
What are the effects of oral cancer on speech and swallowing?
The affects are dependent on where the growth is and its size. For example, movement of the lips may be limited due to sores or lumps and may result in unclear speech made with lips (such as p, b, and m.) This limited movement may also reduce a patient’s ability to hold food in their mouth. Cancer on the tongue may cause difficulties with sounds such as l and r and cause difficulties in swallowing when the patient is unable to move food around the mouth or push food back to the throat to swallow. A growth on the roof of the mouth (soft palate) or in the throat may cause a nasal sound in the voice.
Surgical outcomes may depend on where the cancerous growth was and its size, as well as other important factors such as the amount of tissue removed in surgery, frequency of speech and swallowing treatment and the patient’s own motivation. In some cases, prosthetic devices or reconstructive plastic surgery can restore normal levels of oral functioning.
How is oral cancer diagnosed?
The first to notice the signs of oral cancer are dentists and doctors. SLPs may also notice unusual growths during oral examinations. Patients should then be referred to appropriate medical professionals. SLPs are, however, an important part of the cancer team and perform assessments before and after surgery in addition to treatment.
A person’s speech can be evaluated through standard articulation tests taht address the mount of air that escapes through the nose. The SLP can analyze and describe resonance patterns as well as use x-rays and special instrumentation to evaluate nasal issues.
If there are difficulties swallowing, additional tests may be recommended. Tests can include “modified barium swallow” x-rays or an endoscopic evaluation involving a small fiberoptic tube to be inserted into the nose and down the back of the throat.
What treatments are available for individuals with oral cancer?
SLPs are very important for the evaluation and treatment of patients in order to restore swallowing skills and the intelligibility of speech.
Treatment often includes helping the patient to become accustomed to the new differences in the size, shape, and treatment of their mouth. The SLP can teach the patient how to speak and produce sound more clearly. The patient can also develop better control over weakened muscles in the throat or palate through oral exercises to correct nasal issues. The treatment of difficulty with swallowing can vary from simple changes in the consistency of the patient’s food to exercises for weakened oral muscles to learning completely new swallowing techniques. In many cases, there is evident improvement within several months.
What other organizations have information about oral cancer?
Please be aware that the following list is not comprehensive, and does not necessarily imply endorsement from Premier Therapy Associates as to its content.
- American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS)
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Institute