Oral Cancer

Lip and oral cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lips or mouth.

The oral cavity includes the following:

  • The front two thirds of the tongue
  • The gingiva (gums)
  • The buccal mucosa (the lining of the inside of the cheeks)
  • The floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue
  • The hard palate (the roof of the mouth)
  • The retromolar trigone (the small area behind the wisdom teeth)

What Causes Oral Cancer?

Tobacco and alcohol use can affect the risk of lip and oral cavity cancer.

Risks for Developing Oral Cancer

 Risk factors for lip and oral cavity cancer include the following:

  • Using tobacco products
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time
  • Being male
  • Being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)

Oral Cancer Symptoms

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by lip and oral cavity cancer:

  • A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal
  • A lump or thickening on the lips or gums or in the mouth
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or lining of the mouth
  • Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the lip or mouth
  • Change in voice
  • Loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit well
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw
  • Swelling of jaw
  • Sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat.

Diagnosing Oral Cancer

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam of the lips and oral cavity
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • CT or CAT scan (computed tomography scan)
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan)

Oral Cancer Treatment

The treatment team may include the following specialists:

  • Head and neck surgeon
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Medical oncologist
  • Dentist
  • Speech and language pathologist
  • Dietitian

Three types of standard treatment are used:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.