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Oral Cancer


What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth. It is a type of head and neck cancer. Most oral cancers are squamous cell cancers. They begin in the flat cells that cover the surfaces of your mouth, tongue, and lips. The cancer cells may spread into deeper tissue as the cancer grows.

Most oral cancers are related to tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, or an HPV infection.

Who is more likely to develop oral cancer?

Anyone can get oral cancer, but you are more likely to develop it if you:

  • Use tobacco or drink lots of alcohol. Your risk of developing oral cancer is even higher if you do both.
  • Are male.
  • Are over ago 40.
  • Have HPV.
  • Have a history of head or neck cancer.
  • Get frequent sun exposure (for lip cancer).

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

The symptoms of oral cancer may include:

  • A white or red patch in your mouth
  • A lip or mouth sore that won't heal
  • Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the lip or mouth
  • Loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit well
  • Problems or pain with swallowing
  • A lump in your neck
  • Ear pain
  • Trouble moving your mouth or jaw
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • A sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat

If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see your health care provider or dentist. Oral cancer can spread quickly, so it's important to find it early.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

To find out if you have oral cancer, your provider may use:

  • A physical exam of the lips and mouth.
  • An endoscopy.
  • A biopsy or other procedure to collect cells from the lip or oral cavity. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal.
  • Imaging tests.

What are the treatments for oral cancer?

The treatments for oral cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, or both. After surgery, some people also need chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that are left.

Can oral cancer be prevented?

There are steps you can take to help prevent oral cancer:

  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol use or not drinking at all
  • Getting regular dental exams

NIH: National Cancer Institute

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.