Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth or throat. The most common sites are the lips, tongue and floor of the mouth, but cancer can also originate in the gums, cheeks, roof of the mouth, hard and soft palate, tonsils and salivary glands.

People over the age of 45 years are at increased risk, with men twice as likely as women to develop these types of cancers.


An early indication of oral and throat cancer is one or more changes in the way the soft tissues of your mouth usually look or feel. Signs and symptoms may include :

A sore in your mouth that doesn't heal or increases in size.
Persistent pain in your mouth.

Lumps or white, red or dark patches inside your mouth

Thickening of your cheek

Difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving your tongue

Difficulty moving your jaw, or swelling or pain in your jaw

Soreness in your throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat

Pain around your teeth, or loosening of your teeth

Numbness of your tongue or elsewhere in your mouth.

Changes in your voice.

A lump in your neck.

Bad breath.

Most oral cancers arise on the lips, tongue or on the floor of the mouth. They also may occur inside your cheeks, on your gums or on the roof of your mouth.


The main causes of oral cancer are :

Tobacco use (90 percent of oral cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and dipping snuff)

Other causes of oral cancer may include the following: Other causes of oral cancer may include the following :

Leukoplakia :

A condition characterized by a whitish patch that develops inside the mouth or throat.


A condition characterized by a red, raised patch that develops inside the mouth.

Excessive sun exposure, which, like elsewhere on the body, can
cause cancer on the lip Poor diet
Poor oral hygiene

Gum disease

Habitual chewing of the lips or cheeks

Risk Factor for Oral Cancer

Although heredity also plays a factor, certain lifestyle habits and health conditions can increase a person's risk for developing oral cancer. These include, but are not limited to :

Tobacco use

The majority of patients with oral cancer (90 percent) use tobacco in one form or another. Tobacco can damage cells in the lining of the oral cavity and oropharynx, causing abnormal cells to grow more rapidly to repair the damage.

Alcohol use

The majority of patients with oral cancer (75 to 80 percent) use alcohol frequently. Paired with tobacco use, patients who drink and smoke increase their risk of developing oral cancer even more.


Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer

Chronic irritation

Chronic irritation to the lining of the mouth, due to poorly fitting dentures or other reasons, may increase a person's risk for oral cancer.

Lack of fruits and vegetables in diet

Research has suggested that fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that can "trap" harmful molecules, can decrease the risk for oral cancer (and other cancers). Thus, it is speculated that persons with a low intake of these types of foods are at an increased risk for (oral) cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

HPV usually causes warts and has been linked to cervical, vaginal, and penile cancers. HPV may also increase the risk for oral cancers.


Oral cancer is twice as common in men then in women, partly because men are more likely to use tobacco and alcohol.


Periodic self-examination of the mouth is the best way to detect the early signs of oral and throat cancer. When detected early, oral cancer is always successfully treated.

If you have symptoms that suggest oral cancer, the doctor or dentist checks your mouth and throat for red or white patches, lumps, swelling, or other problems. This exam includes looking carefully at the roof of the mouth, back of the throat, and insides of the cheeks and lips. The doctor or dentist also gently pulls out your tongue so it can be checked on the sides and underneath. The floor of your mouth and lymph nodes in your neck also are checked. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for oral cancer may include one or more of the following :

Biopsy- a procedure in which tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope; to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) - a non-invasive procedure that takes cross-sectional images of the brain or other internal organs; to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary x-ray.

Ultrasonography - a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a non-invasive procedure that produces two-dimensional view of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord.

Once a diagnosis is made, the cancer will be staged (to determine the extent of the disease) before a treatment plan is established.


Oral cancer treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.


Surgery to remove the tumor in the mouth or throat is a common treatment for oral cancer. Sometimes the surgeon also removes lymph nodes in the neck. Other tissues in the mouth and neck may be removed as well. Patients may have surgery alone or in combination with radiation therapy.

Radiation Theraphy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a type of local therapy. It affects cells only in the treated area. Radiation therapy is used alone for small tumors or for patients who cannot have surgery. It may be used before surgery to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor. It also may be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells that may remain in the area .Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells


Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. It is called systemic therapy because it enters the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is usually given by injection. It may be given in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Rarely, a hospital stay may be needed.


Tobacco and alcohol are by far the most important risk factors for oral and throat cancer. You can greatly reduce your risk by not smoking and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. Other steps you can take to help prevent oral and throat cancer or its progression include :

Use well-fitting dentures

If you wear dentures, be sure they fit properly and are well cleaned and rinsed. Oral irritation may increase your risk of oral cancer.

Don't chew on the tissues on the inside of your mouth (inner cheek)

Doing so irritates your oral tissues. This may occur during sleep, along with teeth grinding (bruxism). Talk with your dentist if this is a problem for you.

Limit your exposure to the sun

Ultraviolet light damages the skin on your lips and increases your risk of oral cancer. When you're out in the sun, use lip balm that contains sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and lips

Check your mouth and tongue periodically

Standing in front of a mirror, use your forefinger and thumb to pull facial tissue aside to get a good view and feel of the tissue on the inside of your lips, your cheeks and elsewhere inside your mouth, especially under your tongue. Look for bumps and for changes in color.

Use your thumbs and fingers to check for lumps and tender spots. If you notice changes, talk to your dentist or doctor. Oral and throat cancer can be successfully treated, but success depends on early detection.

Visit your dentist twice a year

Most dentists perform a thorough examination of your mouth during each visit. He or she should conduct a direct as well as indirect (mirrored) observation of all the tissues inside your mouth.

Eat a nutrient-rich diet

Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A poor diet has been linked to oral and other cancers.


The Oral cancer prognosis or the outlook of the disease is better if detected early. If the oral cancer is detected early, before it has spread to other tissues, the cure rate is high.