Lip cancer: causes, symptoms and treatments

Although it seems impossible, lip cancer exists. It is a type of malignant neoplasm that develops from the cells of the skin of the lip. It is included in oral cancer, which is the one that affects the different parts of the oral cavity.

One of the risk factors for suffering from it is tobacco. As in other skin cancers, sun exposure can also be a trigger for the process.

Although lip cancer is treatable, it can significantly affect your appearance and quality of life. That is why early diagnosis is essential. In this article we explain everything you need to know about the pathology and how to identify it.

What is lip cancer?

Cancer is a process in which a mutation occurs in the DNA of cells. This mutation causes cells to begin proliferating in an uncontrolled manner. Thus, they invade and damage the surrounding tissues.

Lip cancer, as we have noted, is included within oral cancer. That is, those malignant tumors that develop within in relation to the oral cavity. According to the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, it has an incidence of 53,000 cases per year in the United States. Above all, it affects people over 40 years of age.

This pathology, as pointed out by the Spanish Association of Head and Neck Cancer, is formed in the skin cells of the lip. Specifically, in some calls flaky. They are flattened, thin and line the interior of the anatomical structure. Most cases affect the lower lip.

Symptoms of lip cancer

Lip cancer can be very aggressive. In addition, the problem is that it often requires surgery to be treated. These types of approaches affect appearance and self-esteem. Therefore, knowing how to identify early symptoms is crucial.

At first, it can manifest itself in different ways. It can be a kind of sore on the lip that does not heal over time. It also appears as a white spot. Even a kind of lump or mass.

As explained by specialists from the Mayo Clinic, some people experience tingling, numbness, or pain around the area. This leads to problems chewing or even speaking normally. In certain cases the lesion bleeds. If the cancer spreads, there may be swelling of the jaw and a sore throat.

The use of sunscreen on the lips should not be underestimated, especially in environments with a reflection of snow.

Causes and risk factors

Cancer appears as a result of mutations in DNA. The specific cause of lip is not known. However, a number of factors are recognized that increase the risk of mutations appearing.

For example, one of the most relevant is tobacco. The smoke of any type of cigarette contains many substances that are harmful to the body. The continuous exposure of the lips is decisive.

As it is a cancer that arises in skin cells, there are risk factors that are shared with dermal neoplasms. For example, sun exposure. In fact, this is essential, since applying protection to the lips can reduce the incidence of the problem.

The Arturo López Pérez Foundation explains that another risk factor is the human papillomavirus. In the same way, frequent infections in the area due to poor oral hygiene or family history can influence.

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How is lip cancer diagnosed?

The diagnosis of lip cancer requires a series of tests to be able to determine exactly the type of neoplasm, the extension and other characteristics. First, a good physical examination is essential. In addition, the doctor must know if accompanying symptoms have appeared.

When a lesion is observed in this area and there is suspicion of malignancy, the ideal is to perform a biopsy. It is a test that consists of removing part of this tissue. The sample is observed under the microscope to check if there is any alteration in the cells.

Exfoliative cytology is also helpful. It is less invasive than biopsy. A sample is obtained from the oral cavity or the lip by rubbing the area with a brush or cotton ball. These cells are also examined in the laboratory.

To determine the extent of lip cancer, other complementary tests are needed. The most used are magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, and positron emission tomography.

Treatments available

Lip cancer can be treated. However, the approach varies depending on the location and extent of the tumor. Surgery is one of the most used options. Especially when it is localized and can be removed without residual damage.

The problem is that if the cancer is large, much of the lip is removed. This has an obvious aesthetic impact, but also causes functional problems. Therefore, reconstructive surgery is often required to repair the defect.

Radiation therapy is another option. Specifically, as explained by a study published in Oral Medicine and Pathology, brachytherapy is used. It allows to use higher doses of radiation in a shorter time and more directly.

Chemotherapy can also be helpful. Especially if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It is usually combined with radiation therapy. Currently, for some neoplasms, there are specific medications depending on the type of cancer that is present. In this way, cancer cells can be killed without causing excessive damage to healthy ones. Immunotherapy is another similar therapeutic option. It is based on stimulating the immune system to fight cancer more effectively.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are usually reserved for cases with malignant spread of the tumor to other regions of the body.

Can lip cancer be prevented?

As we pointed out at the beginning, the causes of lip cancer are not exactly known. However, many factors have been identified that increase the risk of suffering from it. Therefore, prevention is based on avoiding these triggers.

One of the first basic steps is to quit smoking. In the same way, try to reduce sun exposure, especially during peak hours. If you are going to sunbathe or be very exposed, it is essential to apply sun protection on your lips. For example, when you go skiing or in the snow, as the sunlight is reflected.

By last, Be careful with tanning beds. They are techniques that use ultraviolet radiation, which is related to a greater risk of suffering skin lesions.

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Remember that lip cancer can be very aggressive

Lip cancer can be difficult to detect early. Many people are unaware that neoplasms appear in this area. Therefore, it takes time to suspect it.

However, early diagnosis is essential to establish treatment quickly. If successful, the approach may not be overly aggressive and preserve the lip. Otherwise, it will have a serious aesthetic and functional impact.