A cancer diagnosis is always unsettling to the patient and those close to him. The first line of defense for the person fighting cancer is information. While bone cancer is rare among cancers, jaw bone cancer is even more rare. Finding out about the disease and the treatment options available is critical for the best possible prognosis.
This is particularly true with an uncommon cancer like bone cancer. While various types of cancer spread to the bone eventually, it is rare that the disease starts in the bone. According to the American Cancer Society, patients with cancer that begins in the bone are less than 1 percent of the total cancer patients. (Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/sites-types/bone)
There are three general types of primary bone cancer. Osteosarcoma and the Ewing Sarcoma Family of Tumors (ESFTs) normally affect those younger than twenty years old. Older adults with bone cancer usually suffer from chrondosarcoma. They are distinguished by the bone tissue in which they originate.
What is Jaw Bone Cancer?
Although cysts most commonly grow on the jaw bone, most of them are benign. However, cancer can begin in the jaw bone. This is called primary jaw cancer. When a cancer begins somewhere else in the body before moving to the jaw bone, it is referred to as secondary jaw cancer.
While there are several other types, jaw bone cancer is typically an osteosarcoma. This is a group of malignant cells that affect the osteoid tissue of one of the two bones that form the jaw. The upper bone of the jaw is the maxilla. The bone that forms the mouth floor is the mandible. Jaw cancer is one of the most common oral cancers.
What Causes Jaw Bone Cancer?
Low Immunity – Immunity can lower as one ages, making him more susceptible to all kinds of cancer. This is often exacerbated by an unhealthy diet void of essential nutrients. A pattern of inactivity over time can also lower immune function.
Lifestyle Choices – The most common reasons for jaw cancer are lifestyle choices such as smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco and alcohol addiction. The sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is also a high contributor to this cancer. People with oral cancer who chew Betel nuts are susceptible to a secondary jaw cancer.
Medical Conditions – Some jaw bone cancers are caused by dental problems such as abscesses, infections and cavities. A few diseases that affect the mouth can cause cancer in the jaw bone as well. These conditions are characterized by white or red patches in the mouth.
What are Jaw Bone Cancer Symptoms?
Pain or Numbness – Pain is often the first of jaw bone cancer symptoms. When the tumor compresses the surrounding nerves, it creates a painful sensation that radiates to the neck and face. The pain often worsens with movement of the jaw. Depending on which nerves are compressed, jaw cancer may cause tingling and numbness. Either symptom can make eating and drinking difficult.
Dental Issues – Just as dental problems can sometimes cause jaw cancer, the tumors themselves can cause dental issues. In fact, dentists are often the first to identify jaw bone tumors by abnormalities in the mouth. Sometimes the pain from the tumor is mistaken for a toothache.
Swelling and Difficulty Swallowing – When the tumor obstructs blood flow, it causes swelling to occur. This can lead to other issues such as difficulty in chewing and swallowing as well as a sore throat.
How is Jaw Cancer Diagnosed?
Any masses that appear on the mouth or face or teeth loosened by a growth in the sockets merit a physical examination. If something looks suspicious, the doctor will order x-rays.
A radiographic study is not very reliable since it shows benign cysts as well as malignancies. For this reason, a doctor will usually order a biopsy as well.
What are the Treatments for Jaw Cancer?
Surgery – Malignancies on the jaw bone often spread quickly, so early treatment is imperative. If the cancer is contained in the jaw, the optimal treatment is surgery. An alternative to traditional surgery is cryosurgery. Cryosurgery is a means of freezing cancer cells using liquid nitrogen. Surgery may be effective in ridding the body of the tumor completely. Once the disease has metastasized, however, surgery is largely ineffective.
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the administration of anti-cancer drugs. It is often used with surgery as an extra measure to destroy any remaining cells. This treatment suppresses immunity and may result in isolation to prevent infection.
Radiation – Radiation therapy is thought to reduce tumor size and keep the cancer from spreading. This can be radioactive rays aimed at the cancer cells or radioactive material administered within the patient to destroy the cells.
Follow-Up Chemotherapy – A final stage of treatment is additional chemotherapy. This stage can last five to eight months, making the entire process of treatment close to one year in length. (Source:
What is the Prognosis for Jaw Cancer?
When tumors of the jaw are discovered and treated in the early stages, the prognosis is very good. If the cells are contained in the jaw bone, the survival rate is high. Since most jaw cancers are osteosarcomas, they are generally known to be very responsive to treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Fighting cancer is a difficult job. However, learning about the condition helps patients to make informed decisions about treatment. The Mayo Clinic recommends having a doctor write down the specifics of the cancer to aid in research and additional treatment. (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bone-cancer/DS00520/DSECTION=coping-and-support) With proper information and a support system, a patient can become his own best advocate to eradicate jaw cancer.