What is Oral Cancer?

By  , Expert Content
Aug 30, 2012

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Oral cancer is included in head and neck cancers. They form about 85 per cent of head and neck cancers. Oral cancer most commonly occurs on the lips (usually the lower lip), or tongue. Other parts of the oral cavity that can be involved in oral cancer are inside the mouth, back of the throat, the tonsils or salivary glands.

Risk factors for oral cancer

There are many types of oral cancers but most often they are squamous cell carcinomas. Oral cancer affects men more than women, and the risk increases with age (more common in people older than 40 years of age). Other risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • tobacco in any form (cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoking) increases the risk of oral cancer. If you smoke you are six times more likely than a non-smoker to develop oral cancer. Use of smokeless tobacco products (such as dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco) also increases the risk of oral cancers of cheek, gums, and lining of the lips.
  • alcohol: Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing oral cancers by about six times than non-drinkers.
  • family history increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
  • excessive exposure to sun from young age
  • chronic irritation in oral cavity due to uneven teeth, dentures, or fillings
  • infection caused due to Human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • poor dental and oral hygiene.


Symptoms of oral cancer may not be recognised in early stages in many patients. Some symptoms suggestive of oral cancer include:

  • swelling/thickening, sore, growth, spots/crusts/or eroded area in any part of the oral cavity or lips which fails to heal in a few days
  • velvety red or white, or speckled (white and red) patch/patches in the oral cavity which lasts for more than a few days
  • recurrent bleeding from mouth
  • any abnormal or change in sensation on the face, mouth or neck such as numbness, loss of feeling, or pain/tenderness
  • sore or blister in the mouth or on the lip that bleeds or fails to heal in a few days
  • lump in the throat i.e. a feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat.
  • difficulty or discomfort in chewing or swallowing, moving the jaw, speaking, or moving the tongue.
  • change of voice such as hoarseness, or chronic sore throat
  • recurrent or persistent ear pain
  • loose teeth or malocclusion (i.e. change in the way teeth or denture fit)
  • unintended significant weight loss

If you have any bothersome oral symptom it is better that you don’t ignore it. Early diagnosis and treatment improves the chances of cure.


Treatment in early stages can cure oral cancer in about 90 per cent of the patients. Treatment options for patients with oral cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery for oral cancer, aims to remove the cancer completely if possible, but with minimal damage to the rest of the mouth. Before starting treatment for any oral cancer any dental problem is treated.



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