Verrucous carcinoma is a rare type of oral cancer that can start as an innocuous-looking growth or sore in your mouth. When compared to the more common variety of oral cancer — known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) — this carcinoma is less aggressive and has a lower tendency to metastasize (grow and attack other parts of the body). When detected early, this type of cancer can be treated with a minimally invasive procedure.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
According to the journal, Medicina Oral, Patología Oral, y Cirugía Bucal, this rare type of carcinoma makes up between two and 12 percent of all oral cancers, and most often affects people between the ages of 40 and 60. More men than women seem to be affected.
The exact cause of this type of carcinoma is not known, but there are various risk factors associated with these lesions. Smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol and betel nut chewing (a habit popular in parts of Southeast Asia) can all increase your risk of carcinoma and other oral cancers.
According to the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, there may be a connection between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and verrucous carcinoma, but the topic is controversial. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is linked to certain cancers, such as cervical cancer. It is a known cause of certain benign oral and genital lesions, but more research is needed to determine with clarity whether it causes verrucous carcinoma.
Know What to Look For
This rare strain of oral cancer is most likely to show up on the soft tissue of the cheeks (the buccal mucosa), the lower lip, the gums or the alveolar ridge just behind your teeth. It can also appear on the hard palate or tongue. During a routine oral cancer screening, your dentist will check for lumps, areas of numbness and any spots or lesions that are discolored or painful. The first sign of oral cancer is sometimes an abnormal patch of white tissue called leukoplakia.
Any white or red patches that crop up deserve attention. Your dentist will likely perform a biopsy to test if the tissue is malignant, and may even require several biopsies over time so as not to miss a potential transformation into a cancerous growth. This is especially true if you are a smoker or tobacco chewer who develops leukoplakic areas.
The treatment for oral cancer is often surgery that removes the cancerous area and a wide margin around it. According to theAmerican Cancer Society, operations for oral cancer may remove either a very small amount of tissue or a large portion of the tongue, jaw and even neck (if the cancer has grown deep into the surrounding cells). Luckily, cosmetic and functional reconstructive surgeries are constantly advancing for oral surgery patients. Your dentist and doctor can work together to determine the degree to which the cancer has advanced and how invasive the corresponding treatment will need to be.
Unlike other oral cancers, verrucous carcinoma does not often invade the lymph nodes in the neck. Your surgeon may nonetheless have to probe the nodes to check for metastatic cells to make sure the disease can't spread throughout your immune system. Chemotherapy or radiation of the head and neck is usually not required after surgery, and this type of oral lesion has a very low rate of recurrence.
If you smoke, chew tobacco or drink alcohol frequently, your dentist should be performing regular checks for oral cancer. Don't be afraid to speak up if something in your mouth feels or looks different than it should. Your dentist will be happy to help you take the necessary precautions to lower your risk for carcinomas and other oral health issues.