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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
- Mouth Cancer (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
- Oral Cancer (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) Also in Spanish
- Oral Cancer Facts (Oral Cancer Foundation)
Diagnosis and Tests
- Mouth Growths (Merck & Co., Inc.) Also in Spanish
- Oral Cancer Exam (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) - PDF
- Oral Cavity and Nasopharyngeal Cancers Screening (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Panoramic Dental X-Ray (American College of Radiology; Radiological Society of North America) Also in Spanish
Prevention and Risk Factors
- Oral Cavity, Oropharyngeal, Hypopharyngeal, and Laryngeal Cancers Prevention (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Oral, Head, and Neck Pathology (American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons)
Treatments and Therapies
- Treatment Options for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer by Stage (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
- Mouth Dryness or Thick Saliva (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
- Cigar Smoking and Cancer (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Difficulty Chewing (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Also in Spanish
- Mouth Sores and Pain (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
- Swallowing Problems (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
- Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (American Society of Clinical Oncology)
- General Information about Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Tongue Cancer (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
Statistics and Research
- Cancer of the Oral Cavity and Pharynx (National Cancer Institute)
- Key Statistics about Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Mouth Neoplasms (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Tongue Neoplasms (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: The deleted in oral cancer (DOC1 aka CDK2AP1) tumor suppressor gene...
- Article: hsa‑miR‑216a‑3p regulates cell proliferation in oral cancer via the Wnt3a/β‑catenin pathway.
- Article: Joint effect of human papillomavirus exposure, smoking and alcohol on risk...
- Oral Cancer -- see more articles
- Dictionary of Cancer Terms (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
Find an Expert
- American Cancer Society
- Find a Cancer Doctor (American Society of Clinical Oncology)
- Find an ENT (American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery)
- Find an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon (American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons)
- National Cancer Institute Also in Spanish
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Also in Spanish
- Childhood Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
- Leukoplakia (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Oral cancer (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Swallowing problems (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Tongue biopsy (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish