Cancer of the mouth and tongue in dentistry.

Watch Dental Video about Mouth Cancer and Tongue Cancer

Medical doctors do not speak of cancer, but of “carcinoma” or of a malignant tumor.

Ignorance creates fear, and with this article we want to allay your fears a little! How does a tumor develop and what exactly is a tumor?

Well, animals and human beings are composed of many different cells that form groups; different groups of cells form organs with very particular functions. Every cell contains genetic information in its nucleus that assigns a particular task to the cell. It is a long strand that consists of sugar, phosphate, and four different bases (adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine). These bases are lined up in a row and thus form the so-called DNA strand.

Maybe you are familiar with the fact that the microprocessor of your computer only knows "power off" and "power on" – i.e., 1 and 0. The binary coding of this impulse can represent numbers, letters, and many other symbols – for example, the binary code 01000010 stands for the letter "B". The DNA strand in the cell works in a similar fashion; it is always 3 base pairs that code for one amino acid, which the cell then uses to produce proteins. Proteins are the basis for all kinds of "cell organs".

The inside of the cell is somewhat more complex than that of a computer, because the coding does not just depend on the arrangement of the base pairs, but also on the way the DNA strand itself is organized, i.e. how it is folded.

So, this DNA strand determines what type of a cell it is to become, which tasks it will have to perform, and when it is to die. Besides the nucleus, the cell consists of various cell compartments; for example there is a type of "stomach", as well as "factories", in which new proteins are produced from amino acids. Other "factories" use sugar molecules to make carbohydrates, while others use fatty acids to produce fats. Also, every cell has a so-called, "cytoskeleton". Not only does it provide the cell with its shape, but the cytoskeleton is also used for the transport within the cell; like huge conveyor belts, it transports substances from one place to another within the cell.

So basically, a cell is put together the way we are, just on a much smaller scale. The DNA is like a table of contents – the operating instructions of the cell – where everything is written down in great precision, because all these many processes must be executed in an organized manner – otherwise, the result is chaos.

Imagine a young heart cell that developed from blood precursor cells. It grows and sets out migrating through the embryo, settling down at the place where the heart is supposed to be in the future. Once there, it finds its peers and they join to form a primitive precursor organ. The information required by the cells for finding their proper place is coded in the nucleus as well. Other cells – so-called, "guiding cells", help the heart cell to find the right place. Many of these "guiding cells" atrophy after the embryonic development; sometimes, cysts may form out of such cells – more on that in the video "Radicular Cysts".

Cancer of the Mouth

Cancer of the Mouth

Our heart cell has reached its destination now and links up with its peers – cell-cell contacts form. The cell nucleus takes notice and immediately releases information about the tasks that need to be done – for example, one command is to "produce more of the protein, ‘myosin’, and integrate it into your cytoskeleton, because you are a heart cell after all and will have to be involved in the beating of the heart later". No sooner said than done and so the corresponding proteins are produced in the cell’s factories and built into the cell skeleton. At some point, the primitive heart cell begins to concentrate due to the new proteins and the cell network results in a heartbeat.

But just as we have a certain lifespan as human beings, our heart cell has one as well – after which it must make room for new cells. Because work leads to wear, the cytoskeleton ages. The biologist calls this programmed cell death "apoptosis". When the time has come, the nucleus notifies the cell to destroy itself – i.e. to initiate the apoptosis.

At that point, we arrive at our topic of cancer – because if the apoptosis is not executed properly, then this cell, which "does not want to die", could turn into a cancer cell. But we haven’t made it to that part yet, because although our heart cell does not want to die, it does not want to multiply either. Nevertheless, its defective function is immediately detected by special guard cells (the immune system) and the cell is simply eliminated – i.e. destroyed.

But let’s take another heart cell, since we have so many of them. As soon as the cells reach their destination, they normally begin to divide, and continue to do so until they run out of space. Special receptors on the cell surface signalize that the cell is surrounded by its peers now and that it no longer has to continue dividing, but to assume its originally assigned function instead – in our case, the production of "myosin".

Sometimes, it is both the apoptosis mechanism, as well as the cell division mechanism, that do not work. So this other cell keeps dividing like crazy, even though there is no more space available. It does not want to die either, because the apoptosis mechanism does not work anymore. So a lot has gone haywire in the cell or, more precisely, in the DNA strand: Signaling pathways do not work anymore; the wrong proteins are being produced.

Every new descendent cell has the same defect and thus divides like crazy as well. But since the entire cell metabolism has gone haywire, more and more defects accumulate in the descendent cells. They are either so severe that the cell dies immediately or a true tumor cell develops. Because so far, we do not have any malignant tumor – our cell does not want to die and, therefore, divides like crazy, but the guard cells (our immune system) take notice immediately and the corresponding cells are destroyed.

Unfortunately, not all of them, because some cells survive the attack of the immune system and through newly accumulated defects in the genetic information, the cells succeed in fleeing the immune system. Everything has gone haywire in the cell and so, through spontaneous mutation, some of the descendent cells acquire the capability to detach from the cell network. They produce an enzyme that allows the cell to eat through vascular walls and thus, our malignant cell reaches a place that is foreign to itself – a metastasis has occurred; now we are talking about a malignant tumor.

Cancer Cell

Cancer Cell

In our case, the primum – i.e. the cell-of-origin – was a heart cell. But it is not always possible to trace back the cell-of-origin, because due to the accumulated defects, the cells lose more and more of their original form/function. Such tumors are called malignant tumors with an "unknown primum".

We can all imagine that this amount of work (cell division, migration) consumes a lot of energy. That is also the reason why human beings die – either the cell settles at a very unfavorable place from where it cannot be removed, or the body loses so much energy that it dies from energy depletion – in most cases, it is a mixture of both. Luckily, less and less people die from a malignant tumor, although the frequency of tumors is increasing. The reason for this development lies in the perpetually improved therapeutic possibilities – an early recognition is important!

But how does a defect in this library occur? If we look at our heart cell, we can see that radioactive radiation may damage the DNA, but chemicals may also harm the library. Depending on the tissue, there are different ways it may be damaged: Lung cells do not like cigarette smoke, liver cells do not do very well with alcohol, and kidney cells cannot stand heavy metals. The entire issue is further complicated by the immune system, which – as we have learned – can recognize and also eliminate tumor cells; however, it can also trigger tumors, for example through chronic inflammation stimuli.

So a malignant tumor is an evolution that occurs in one’s own body, caused be a deregulated cell. Now we understand more clearly why substances that are able to damage genetic information can trigger tumors. So anything able to disorganize the table of contents of the cell can cause tumors.

Some people have inherently "more order" in their library; other people have less of it. That is why one often finds families with a predisposition for certain tumors. Whether we contract a tumor depends on many factors – one is our own genetic information, another is the amount and frequency of harmful substances we are exposed to. Another factor is our immune system, which is in turn "modulated" by our psyche - all these aspects are closely interrelated in a very complex manner. So the more we understand these issues, the better we can arrange our lives in accordance with them and counteract the degeneration of cells through a balanced lifestyle!

This post is also available in: German

on 1 Comment

1 Response to "Mouth Cancer and Tongue Cancer"

  • kooser says:
Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.