Last month, a young man walked into my clinic. A frail looking man, appearing much older than his actual age. He was a 27 year old guy with the looks of a distressed 40 year old person. His eyes kept telling me that he has had sleepless nights. His skin was pale, hair were frail, and his gait was not matching his age. The worry on his face indicated that he feared something disastrous has happen in his life in recently.
During conversation with him, I came to know about the cause of his worry. He had been a Gutkha chewer and smoker since 13 years of age. He got married at an early age and has 3 daughters. Now his worries stood at the question of his life and death. Yes! Life and death! Whatever little research he could do on his own he had learnt that his body was showing signs of cancer.
This young man was suffering from all the early symptoms of first grade oral cancer. He narrated to me his problems. He could not eat hot or spicy food, his taste sensation almost lost, he couldn’t open his mouth to more than a centimeter. He had pain in the neck region below his jaw.
Upon intra-oral examination I could see multiple ulcers on his tongue and cheek mucosa (intra-oral skin of cheek). There was whitish discoloration of his tongue surface and also the cheek mucosa. Severe gum recession was resulting in compromised teeth support.
Extra-oral examination revealed swollen lymph nodes, limited mouth opening and mild swelling on both the sides of the jaw. All these symptoms and signs are suggestive of early stage oral cancer.
Now I could imagine the cause of distress that was visible on his face since he met me, and the cause of the frail body despite being young. The fear of cancer had eaten him up internally, and the visible symptoms indicated weak body due to altered diet and hormonal changes.
At this vulnerable condition, the poor guy might be thinking of his wife, and three daughters. Who would look after them? Who would love them and care for them? These are natural questions to come.
But after our further laboratory investigations, it was revealed that it was not cancer. He was suffering from what we call a pre-cancerous condition. His habit of smoking and Gutkha-chewing had led to this condition. Now, if he continues the habit, then it could lead to fatal oral cancer within next few months.
It was a great relief for the patient, and also the doctor. But imagine the distress that one has to go through because of these debilitating oral habits of smoking, chewing Gutkha and tobacco.