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What Is Maxillofacial Cancer?
Maxillofacial cancer is cancerous tumors growing in the maxillofacial region, which includes the face, neck, or mouth. These cancers are amongst the 10th most common in the United States. Maxillofacial cancer requires fastidious study from healthcare providers in order to get an accurate and timely diagnosis.
A general practitioner, oral surgeon, oncologist, and other healthcare professionals work together to provide a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to diagnose and treat maxillofacial cancers. A professional is well-equipped to remove tumors and reconstruct tissues lost to tumor removal surgery.
Risk Factors for Maxillofacial Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, men are twice as likely to get maxillofacial cancers as women. Men over age 50 have the highest risks. Approximately 50,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed every year. 200,000 maxillofacial cancers are diagnosed every year. Risk factors are highest for smokers, people who vape, alcoholics, those with a family history of cancer, those with excessive sun exposure, and those with HPV. However, more than 25% of people diagnosed with maxillofacial cancers have no history of smoking or vaping, rarely drink, are careful about sun exposure, and are HPV negative. No matter the cause of maxillofacial cancer, a talented team of professionals in McKinney, TX is waiting and ready to help patients fight and win their battle with cancer.
Symptoms of Maxillofacial Cancer
Mouth, face, and neck cancer commonly presents with these symptoms:
- Swelling, lumps, rough or crusty spots, tissue erosion
- Velvety white, red, or speckled patches of soft tissue
- Unexplained bleeding
- Numbness or loss of sensation, pain, or tenderness in the mouth, neck, or face
- Sores that won’t heal on the mouth, neck, or face or sores take longer than a couple of weeks to heal
- Difficulty with speaking, moving the tongue or jaw, or chewing or swallowing
- A persistent sore throat
- Persistent ear pain
- Changes in the alignment of teeth or dentures
- Unexplained weight loss
If you or someone you love has any of those symptoms, make an appointment with a general practitioner right away. They will likely refer you for imaging, biopsies, and consultation with an oral surgeon right away.
Treatment for Maxillofacial Cancers
The first line of treatment for maxillofacial cancer is surgery. This is performed by an oral surgeon who specializes in maxillofacial cancers. The extent of surgery and expectations of success depend largely upon the stage of cancer. Typically, a professional will opt to do surgery when cancers are in an early stage, small, and haven’t spread to lymph nodes or distant organs.
Tumor removal surgery is referred to as tumor resection. The professional will do their best to get the entire tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around the tumor to ensure all the cancerous cells are gone. The extensiveness of the surgery will depend upon where the tumor is located and its size.
Tumors of the lips may be excised using Mohs micrographic surgery, whereby the tumor is cut into very thin slices and removed for immediate examination under a microscope. The professional will keep exercising until the tissues come out cancer-free. With this type of surgery, patients can minimize the lasting effects of tumor resection on their appearance. This type of surgery reduces the margins of normal tissue taken around the tumor. However, its performance requires a highly skilled oral surgeon who is specifically trained in these methods.
For tumors of the tongue, partial or total glossectomy surgery, or removal of the tongue, must be performed. Tumors in the mouth and tongue are typically faster to remove than tumors in other areas of the head and neck. However, the change in the patient’s appearance and the change in the functionality of the mouth are more noticeable to some patients than changes after tumor resection in the neck. Reconstructive surgeries performed by a highly trained oral surgeon can help restore the functionality and appearance of the mouth, jaw, teeth, and tongue.
Cancer of the mandible, or jawbone, requires a surgery called a mandibulectomy. During a mandibulectomy, a professional removes the tumor and part of or all of the jawbone. Tumors on or around the jawbone that are hard and don’t move when touched have probably grown into the bone, and that bone will need to be resected.
Sometimes, the jawbone will look normal on imaging results and the oral surgeon may remove only a small section of bone in a surgery called a partial-thickness mandibular resection or marginal mandibulectomy. Other times, images will show that tumors have grown into the bone and the professional will do a segmental mandibulectomy to remove the bone. It will be replaced with a piece of bone from somewhere else in the body.
Hard palate tumors that grow in the front part of the roof of the mouth must be resected in a surgery called a maxillectomy. This surgery may be total or partial, depending on the size of the tumor. The surgeon will replace the bone with a prosthesis during reconstructive surgery. The prosthesis is created by a prosthodontist who will work with the oral surgeon to create the prosthesis for the patient.
Cancers of the throat are increasingly resected using robotic surgery. Traditional surgeries are risky and difficult, and many times doctors will opt to do chemotherapy and radiation afterward. The surgeon may choose to implement robots into throat surgeries because they cause fewer side effects than drug therapy and open surgeries. In fact, many patients are able to be treated with robotic surgery alone and will never have to have chemoradiation therapy.
Reconstruction and Recovery
After cancerous tumors and nearby tissues are removed, patients are given time to heal. They may start chemotherapy and/or radiation, or their tumor treatment could be complete with surgery alone. The oral surgeon will perform reconstructive surgery when needed to restore the appearance and functionality of the neck, mouth, jaw, or face. Sometimes prosthetics that are similar to dentures are used to help restore the functionality of the mouth and jaw.
An oral surgeon is one of the strongest allies in a patient’s battle against cancer. If you or someone you love has maxillofacial cancer, contact our NextGen OMS office today to schedule a consultation with a talented professional in McKinney, TX.