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Mouth Cancer


Disease: Mouth Cancer Mouth Cancer
Category: Mouth and teeth diseases
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Disease Definition:

The cancer that develops in any of the parts that make up the mouth is referred to as mouth cancer. On the roof and floor of the mouth, gums, inside lining of the cheeks, tongue and lips are some of the places that mouth cancer can occur.

Oral cavity cancer or oral cancer is what the cancer that occurs on the inside of the mouth is sometimes called.

One of several types of cancer grouped in a category called head and neck cancers is mouth cancer. This condition and other head and neck cancers are usually treated similarly.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


The following may be included in the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer:


  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • A white or reddish patch on the inside of the mouth
  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • A sore that doesn't heal
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Tongue pain
  • Loose teeth
  • Sore throat
  • A lump or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth
  • Difficult or painful chewing

When having any persistent signs and symptoms that bother one and last more than two weeks, a person should make an appointment with the doctor or dentist. At first, the doctor may investigate other more common causes for the signs and symptoms of this person, such as infection.


When cells on the lips or in the mouth develop changes or mutations in their DNA, mouth cancer occurs. When healthy cells would normally die, these mutations allow cancer cells to grow and divide. A tumor may be formed by the accumulating mouth cancer cells. As time passes, they may spread to other areas of the mouth and on to other areas of the head and neck or other parts of the body.

In the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) that line the lips and the inside of the mouth is where mouth cancers most commonly begin. The majority of oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

The cause of the mutations in squamous cells that lead to mouth cancer is not understood. However, factors that may increase the risk of mouth cancer have been identified.

The risk of mouth cancer may increase due to some factors:


  • Previous cancer or radiation treatments in the head or neck area
  • Tobacco use of any kind, including snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipes and cigarettes, among others
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive sun exposure to the lips
  • A sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)



The complications that mouth cancer treatment can cause may make it difficult to chew, swallow or speak. Some of these complications may be anticipated by the doctor, who can in turn refer the patient to the specialists who can prepare this patient for changes and help him/her recover after the treatment.

The patient may be referred to a specialists who can help with the following, depending on the situation:


  • Coping with changes in the appearance
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty eating
  • Speech problems


The treatment of mouth cancer depends on the patient’s overall health and personal preferences, as well as the cancer's location and stage. Options can be discussed with the doctor, as the patient may undergo a combination of cancer treatments, or may have just one type of treatment.

The following are the options of surgery for mouth cancer:

Surgery to remove the tumor:
The tumor and a margin of healthy tissue that surrounds it may be cut away by the surgeon. Smaller cancers may be removed through minor surgery. More extensive procedures may be required for larger tumors. For example, removing a section of the jawbone or a portion of the tongue may be involved in removing a larger tumor.

Surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the neck:
Usually, mouth cancer spreads to the lymph nodes in the neck. A procedure to remove cancerous lymph nodes and related tissue in the neck called a neck dissection may be recommended in this case.

Surgery to reconstruct the mouth:
To help the patient regain the ability to talk and eat or to restore the appearance of his/her face, reconstructive surgery may be recommended after an operation to remove the cancer. To reconstruct the face of the patient, the surgeon may transplant grafts of skin, bone or muscle from other parts of the patient's body. The patient’s natural teeth may be replaced by dental implants.

There is a risk of bleeding and infection in all types of surgery. The appearance of the patient, as well as his/her ability to swallow, eat and speak, is often affected by surgery for mouth cancer. The doctor may refer the patient to specialists who can help him/her handle these changes.

Mouth cancers are particularly sensitive to radiation therapy. To kill cancer cells, high-energy beams such as X-rays are used in radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can be delivered form radioactive seeds and wires placed near the cancer, a method called brachytherapy; or from a machine outside of the patient’s body, a method called external beam radiation.

If the patient has an early stage of mouth cancer, radiation therapy may be the only treatment he/she receives. This therapy may also be used before or after surgery in some cases, while in other cases, it may be combined with chemotherapy. Although this combination increases the side effects that the patient may experience, it also increases the effectiveness of radiation therapy. In advanced mouth cancers, radiation therapy may help relieve pain or other signs and symptoms caused by cancer.

Mouth sores, jaw stiffness, tooth decay, bleeding gums, fatigue, dry mouth and red, burn-like skin reactions may be included in the side effects of radiation therapy to the mouth.

The type of treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells is called chemotherapy. The drugs of chemotherapy may be given alone, in combination with other chemotherapy drugs, or in combination with other cancer treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often combined because chemotherapy may increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

The type of drugs the patient receives will determine his/her side effects. Hair loss, vomiting and nausea are common side effects.

By altering specific aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth, targeted drugs treat mouth cancer. One targeted therapy approved for treating head and neck cancers in certain situations is cetuximab. Cetuximab stops the action of a protein that's found in many types of healthy cells, but it is more prevalent in cancer cells.

In combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, targeted drugs can be used. In clinical trials, other targeted drugs are being studied.


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