Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a subtype of neck and head cancer. It refers to all cancerous tissue increase situated in the oral cavity. It may occur by extension from a nearby anatomic structure, because of metastasis from a distant site of origin, or by a primary lesion originating in an oral tissue. 90% of oral cancers originate in the tissues that line the lips and mouth, called squamous cell carcinomas (though there are several types of oral cancers). Oral cancer commonly involves the tongue, but also may occur in the cheek lining, lips, gums, or floor/roof of the mouth.


There are early warning signs and symptoms in the mouth that may suggest oral cancer. For example, an ulcer, lump, or skin lesion that does not resolve in two weeks located on the lip, tongue, or in other mouth areas could indicate oral cancer. They are usually small and pale colored, although they may be discolored or dark. There may be a red patch or white patch on the soft tissues of the mouth. It may go unnoticed because it is initially painless, but may develop into severe pain or a burning sensation as the tumor advances. It may be located behind the ear or behind the wisdom teeth. People with oral cancer may have mouth sores which do not heal, tongue problems, or difficulty swallowing. They may have loose teeth or bleeding in the mouth. Sometimes oral cancer can cause an earache. It can cause thickening of the cheek, or a hoarse voice that lasts a long time. It may also make speaking difficult and cause a sore throat. Seniors with oral cancer may have difficulty wearing dentures.


Oral cancer occurs when the cells in your mouth or on your lips develop mutations in their DNA. While healthy cells would grow, divide, and die, mutations allow cancer cells to divide and grow without dying. This results in an accumulation of cancer cells in the mouth, which can form a tumor. In time, they can spread to other areas of the mouth, the neck, head, and other parts of the body. There are factors that increase the risk of oral cancer. Smoking is a common cause. Unprotected sun exposure and drinking excessive alcohol are also risks that increase the chances of developing oral cancer.


It is possible for you to actively work to detect oral cancer early or preventing it entirely. It is important to floss and brush your teeth daily (twice daily preferably). Keeping your mouth clean and healthy improves the immune system and increases the chances that your body will successfully fight off potential cancers. You also want to avoid smoking or chewing any type of tobacco. Drink alcohol responsibly; try to drink 1-2 drinks per day maximum and avoid binge drinking. You also want to limit your exposure to the sun. Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer on your lips, so use sun protection with proper UV blocking capabilities. Be sure to exercise regularly, as an active and healthy lifestyle will work to boost the immune system and do what it can to help you fight off cancer. A healthy lifestyle includes a healthy diet. Eat cancer-fighting foods like beans, grapes, berries, and tomatoes. Go to your dental hygienist or dentist at least once every 6 months, and conduct a self examination at least once a month. This self examination may take only a few minutes but can help you detect oral cancer early, making it easier to get rid of. The Oral Cancer Foundation has more information and various prevention methods.


Oral cancer treatment varies depending on the location and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health. You may have to undergo a combination of cancer treatments, or you may need only one type of treatment.

 One of the treatments is surgery. This includes surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes in the neck, surgery to remove a tumor, or surgery to reconstruct the mouth. Surgery on the mouth can affect your ability to eat, speak, and swallow, and may affect your appearance. Sometimes radiation therapy is used following surgery, while other times it may be the only treatment required. IT uses high-energy beams to eliminate cancer cells. Other treatment techniques include chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy.