Check Your Lip! Things You Need to Know about Lip Cancer

By | 13/04/2020
Things You Need to Know about Lip Cancer

Lip cancer is a form of malignancy that grows in a kind of lesions or tumors on the lips.  This type of cancer is part of head and neck cancer and become the most common malignancy in the oral cavity.

More often than not, lip cancer starts from the thin and flat cells called squamous. In a few rarer cases, it begins in the melanoma and becoming more aggressive than the squamous cells.

Statistic mentions that within one year, there are approximately 40.000 new cases of lip cancer in the United States. It means 1.8 per 100.000 populations will develop specific symptoms that manifest as cancer. Though it “only” contributes to 0.6% of all cancer cases in general, it’s essential to get to know the risk factors, prevention, and early detection to reduce the number of sicknesses.

Lip Cancer Symptoms

Lip cancer is rarely discussed and sometimes overlook as it has a good prognosis and less fatality rate. However, lip cancer does affect its patients and survivors tremendously, to the degree relate to speech function and also cosmetics. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the symptoms and becoming aware of it.

Lip cancer can develop both in the upper lips and the lower lips. However, more than 90% of cases report a lesion or tumor in the lower part of the lips. Research announces that this probably due to the high amount of UV rays exposed to the unshielded lower lip. While for the upper part, the nose naturally protects it.

One of the most common symptoms of an early stage of lip cancer is a soreness, lump, ulcer, or lesion on the lips. It sometimes reaches the inner part of the lips that make chewing, and speaking can be painful and unbearable. The patient did notice the presence of tingling and numb sensations to the skin area around the mouth. Usually, this feeling won’t go away and even can get worse if left untreated.

It can be genuinely alarming symptoms for lip cancer if you find a red, white patch, or any unusual discolorations. Usually, bleeding comes hand in hand with all of these symptoms. Along with all of the discomfort, most of the patients did report a swelling jaw that results in tightness. If you’re experiencing one or more symptoms of this, please make an immediate report to your dentist or general practitioner.

Causes and Risk Factors

Different than any other cancer that sometimes finds intriguing to figure out the real reason, lip cancer causes are highly related to lifestyle. A report from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research highlights the role of smoking and high alcohol intake in the form of abnormal cells on the lips. As you know the cause, then it might be easier to map out the risk factors as below:

1. Histories as Heavy Smokers

If you’re a smoker, learn how to stop now. If you’re considering trying cigarettes, get rid of this idea and find a healthier habit to adopt. Any types of smoking, such as cigar pipes and chewing tobacco, are susceptible to expose carcinogenic substances to the lips. Be aware if you have a prolonged history of this, and you don’t want to get a lip cancer from smoking.

2. Having a Regular High Alcohol Intake

Drinking alcohol regularly, especially in a high intake, will increase your risk of being exposed to lip cancer. This warning applies to almost all of the alcohol drinks such as red and white wine, beer, cocktails, and liquor. Try to reduce and limit your consumption and replace it with healthier options such as kombucha or kefir.

3. Being Highly-Exposed by Sun Rays

It’s not a coincidence that more than 70% of lip cancer patients are those who work in an outdoor setting. Though the UVB rays will give a tremendous amount of health benefits but being exposed continuously at the wrong time will increase your chance of getting lip cancer.

4. Excessive Tanning Process

If you’re trying to get those sunkissed brownish skin, then most likely, you will opt for a tanning process such as using a tanning bed. Unfortunately, this activity tends to put you at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, including lip cancer.

Prevention and Early Detection

Despite these all lifestyle-related risk factors that you can adjust, there’s a genetic factor that you might not be able to avoid. If you’re a male with light skin and is currently above 40 years old, then you’re in this group of high-risk people.

Otherwise, you still can prevent yourself by stop smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, and practicing a healthy balanced lifestyle in general. Please do consider the portion of healthy foods on your diet, the number of quality sleep you get each night, and the amount of your exercise routine.

Daily, you can apply on sunblock with minimum SPF 30  before you’re heading to any outdoor activities. To leverage the effectiveness, make sure that you reapply it every two hours. Lip balm with SPF is a necessity too and may give you maximal protection for your lip.

There’s no such thing as a standard early detection for lip cancer. However, dentists usually notice it on regular dental checks. Otherwise, patients might do self-reporting when they catch any unusual discomforts such as lip cancer white spots. Due to this, most of the lip cancer patients haven’t progressed into the late-stage yet.

Diagnosis and Staging

Diagnosis and Staging lip cancer

To get an accurate diagnosis of a cancer lip, the patient needs to go through several processes. The earliest one is the physical exam. During this process, the doctor will try to see any difference in lip, mouth, and facial area. It’s also reasonable to examine the possibility of having enlarged lymph nodes on the neck. If the doctor finds any signs of malignancy, then she will suggest a biopsy.

If you go through this process, a sample of tissues will be taken and examined under a microscope. This process makes the role of a pathologist to determine the name and characteristics of the cells. When the pathological reports are available, the doctor will discuss with you the condition you have.  The doctor may also send you further to imaging tests such as x-ray, MRI, CT-scan, and PET-scan.

The latest process is staging. Just like the other type of cancer, staging requires detail on the size of the tumor, the involvement of lymph nodes, and whether there is distant metastasis. The lip cancer stages will later become a guidance to rule out what type of treatment that works best on the condition.

Lip Cancer Treatment

The primary goal of lip cancer treatment is to kills the cancerous cells and to reduce the risk of any future recurrence. Furthermore, the right and effective treatment will help to improve the appearance and function of the affected lip. If you’re heading to lip cancer treatment, make sure that you stop any habits that might impede the efficacy, such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

Usually, there’s no single treatment for lip cancer, and it makes sense to combine two or more medical procedures as it supports to each other. Therefore, the patient will work together with not only Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) expert, but also plastic surgeon, ENT oncologist, and radiation oncologist. According to the protocol, some of the recommended treatments are:

1. Surgery

Sometimes called Micrographic surgery or shortened as Mohs surgery, this supposed to be the first and primary treatment of lip cancer lump. It includes removing all of the cancerous tissues along with the margin of healthy tissue that surrounds it. In return, this lip cancer surgery might cause trouble in swallowing, speaking, and chewing. 

To restore the function and appearance, your physician might suggest plastic and reconstructive surgery.

2. Radiation

This treatment applies to the outer surface of the cancerous tissue. It helps to shrink to cells and will support to prevent relapse. Radiation uses x-ray beams and protons and usually takes a repetitive action to become fully effective. The most recommended is five times a week for six weeks continuously. Be aware of the side effect, such as burning sensation and patchy skin.

3. Chemotherapy

It uses a chemical drug that administered through a vein or orally. Chemotherapy runs in a cycle that might give some additional side effects. Most patients report nausea, hair loss, fatigue, dry skin, reduce appetite, and feeling weak in general.

Post-Treatment Follow Up

lip cancer survival rate

Lip cancer is highly curable if it caught early and treated adequately. Due to its visibility and easy to be spot on, most of the cases are rarely develop to the late stage. With 90% lip cancer survival rate amongst all of the patients, there’s real hope for those who are newly diagnosed and trying to find the silver line.

Along with this, patients still need to go through follow-up care. Usually, patients should go back to the oncology clinic three to four times a year. If all of the scans are clear, then the number of the visit can be reduced to one to two times a year.

Becoming Your Own Cancer Advocate

One of the most critical messages from the cancer survivors community is the importance of being your advocate. If you’re getting diagnosed with cancer, then you need to gather as much reliable information as possible and know the available treatments for you. Making sure that you have a supportive inner circle will do many roles in managing anxiety and thrive in distress.

Lip cancer might be a rare variant of carcinoma, and it might be one of those cancers with the highest survival rates. However, each one, and especially older males with light and very light skin, needs to be extremely aware of it. After all, it’s better to prevent than to cure. 

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