Oral cancer

Definition

Oral cancer is cancer that starts in the mouth.

Causes

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 of oral cancer.

Other factors that may increase the risk of oral cancer include:

Some oral cancers begin as a white plaque (leukoplakia) or as a mouth ulcer.

Men get oral cancer twice as often as women do, particularly men older than 40.

Symptoms

Oral cancer can appear as a lump or ulcer in the mouth that may be:

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

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.

Treatment

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.

Other treatments may include speech therapy or other therapy to improve movement, chewing, swallowing, and speech.

Support Groups

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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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.

Prevention

Oral cancer may be prevented by:


Review Date: 2/3/2014
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, FACS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.