The detrimental effects of smoking on our health are well-known. There are hundreds of chemicals in smoke, many of which are cancer-causing or carcinogenic in nature.

Smoking also raises our chance of developing heart disease and long-term respiratory conditions. About 50 per cent of all cancer-related fatalities are attributable to tobacco use. Oral cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in India, where it accounts for 30 per cent of all cancer cases. 90 per cent of oral cancer cases in India are caused by tobacco use, according to a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Smoking causes oral cancer by exposing the tissues in the mouth to harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrosamines, and benzene. These chemicals can damage the DNA in the cells lining the mouth, eventually transforming these normal cells into malignant cells. Symptoms of oral cancer include mouth sores which do not heal, pain in the mouth and ear, difficulty in swallowing, lump in the neck, a white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth.

To prevent oral cancer, individuals should maintain good oral hygiene, quit smoking, and avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Quitting smoking and oral tobacco is the best way to reduce the risk of oral cancer. Additionally, tobacco cessation can have significant benefits for one's overall health, such as improved lung function, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

Advanced oral cancer can be a challenge to treat, hence early detection is important to increase chances of a successful outcome. The treatment options for oral cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Numerous advances have been made in this field in the past few years. Minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery, targeted radiation and chemotherapy drugs can now treat these cancers with negligible impact on quality of life. Preservation of function and aesthetics have become the mantra for developing new strategies.

In some cases, a combination of these treatments may be used to achieve the best possible outcome. Furthermore, one can quit smoking with the help of resources such as nicotine replacement therapy, consisting of nicotine gum and patches, which helps in reducing withdrawal symptoms. Counselling and support groups can also be beneficial for those trying to quit smoking.

Prevention is the best strategy. Stopping tobacco use would eliminate the vast majority of oral cancers. There is no other disease which has such a clear prevention strategy. Your health is your priority and now is the time to stop smoking.

(Dr. Deepak Sarin, Vice Chairman, Head and Neck Onco Surgery, Cancer Institute, Medanta Gurgaon )