Mouth (Oral) Cancer

cancer mouth

Mouth cancer is also called oral cancer can affect any part of the mouth, including the tongue and lips. It is twice as common in men as it is in women .The most common symptoms are having a sore or ulcer for more than three weeks. You should see your dentist or doctor if you have any symptoms in your mouth that are unusual. The outlook for people with mouth cancer is very good if it is diagnosed early.

What causes mouth cancer?

A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply out of control.

Some people develop mouth cancer for no apparent reason. However, certain risk factors increase the chance that mouth cancer may develop. These include:

Smoking. Mouth cancer has higher incidence in smokers than in non-smokers.

Alcohol. Drinking a lot of alcohol can increase your risk of developing mouth cancer.

Chewing tobacco ,guthka or the betal leaf.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) may increase your risk of mouth cancer.

There are some conditions affecting the mouth, such as leukoplakia and erythroplakia, which can increase the risk of a cancer developing.

Mouth cancer is not hereditary, so does not run in families.

What are the symptoms of mouth cancer?

The most common symptoms of mouth cancer are a sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal, and pain in the mouth that does not go away.
White patches anywhere in your mouth (leukoplakia).
Red patches anywhere in your mouth (erythroplakia).
A lump on the lip, tongue or in the mouth or throat.
Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth.
Pain when chewing or swallowing.
A feeling that something is caught in the throat.
Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth.
Loose teeth or dentures feeling uncomfortable and not fitting properly.
A change in your voice or speech problems.
Weight loss.
A lump in the neck.
If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, various other symptoms can develop.

All of these symptoms can be due to other conditions, so tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis.Note: any ulcer in the mouth that does not heal after three weeks should be checked by your dentist or doctor.

How is mouth cancer diagnosed and assessed?

To confirm the diagnosis

It is likely that you will need a biopsy. A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then looked at under the microscope to look for abnormal cells.

Assessing the extent and spread (staging)

If you are confirmed to have mouth cancer then further tests may be done. For example, biopsy samples may be taken from the nearby lymph glands by using a fine needle. This is to assess if any cancer cells have spread to the lymph glands.

Other tests may be arranged to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. For example, a CT scan, an MRI scan, or other tests.

This assessment is called staging of the cancer. The aim of staging is to find out:

How much the tumour has grown in the mouth.
Whether the cancer has spread to local lymph nodes.
Whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body (metastasised).

What are the treatment options for mouth cancer?

Treatment options which may be considered include radiotherapy, surgery, and chemotherapy. The treatment advised for each case usually depends on various factors such as the exact site and extent of the cancer, and your general health.


The most common treatment is surgery. The type of operation depends on the size of the cancer and its site. The operation may be to remove the cancer and some of the surrounding normal tissue.Surgery is aimed at curing the cancer by removing it all. Sometimes surgery is used to relieve symptoms if the cancer is at an advanced stage (palliative surgery).


Radiotherapy is a treatment which uses high-energy beams of radiation tokill cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying.


Chemotherapy is a treatment which uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, or to stop them from multiplying. Chemotherapy may be used in conjunction with radiotherapy or surgery. Chemotherapy may also be advised if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

What is the prognosis (outlook)?

If a mouth cancer is diagnosed and treated at an early stage then there is a good chance of a cure. A cure is less likely if the cancer has spread. The treatment of cancer is a developing area of medicine. New treatments continue to be developed and the information on outlook above is very general. The specialist who knows your case can give more accurate information about your particular outlook, and how well your type and stage of cancer is likely to respond to treatment

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