Oral cancer is cancer that starts in the mouth.
Oral cancer most commonly involves the lips or the tongue. It may also occur on the:
Most oral cancers are a type called squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers tend to spread quickly.
Smoking and other tobacco use are linked to most cases of oral cancer. Heavy alcohol use also increases the risk for oral cancer.
Other factors that may increase the risk for oral cancer include:
Some oral cancers begin as a white plaque (leukoplakia) or as a mouth ulcer.
Men develop oral cancer twice as often as women do. It is more common in men older than 40.
Oral cancer can appear as a lump or ulcer in the mouth that may be:
Other symptoms may include:
Your doctor or dentist will examine your mouth area. The exam may show:
Tests used to confirm oral cancer include:
X-rays and CT, MRI and PET scans may be done to determine if the cancer has spread.
Surgery to remove the tumor is usually recommended if the tumor is small enough. Surgery may be used together with radiation therapy and chemotherapy for larger tumors.
Depending on what type of treatment you require, supportive treatments that may be needed include:
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Approximately half of people with oral cancer will live more than 5 years after they are diagnosed and treated. If the cancer is found early, before it has spread to other tissues, the cure rate is nearly 90%. More than half of oral cancers have spread when the cancer is detected. Most have spread to the throat or neck.
Complications of oral cancer may include:
Oral cancer may be discovered when the dentist does a routine cleaning and examination.
Call your health care provider if you have a sore in your mouth or lip or a lump in the neck that does not go away within 1 month. Early diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer greatly increases the chance of survival.
Oral cancer may be prevented by:
Reviewed By: Sumana Jothi, MD, specialist in laryngology, Clinical Instructor UCSF Otolaryngology, NCHCS VA, SFVA, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.