Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer (Mouth Cancer)

Cancer occurs when the cells grow abnormally and also invade nearby tissues and eventually spreading to other organs in the body through the bloodstream or the lymph nodes.

Mouth cancer or Oral Cancer is the cancer of the lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks and roof and floor of the mouth.

Types of Mouth Cancer

  • Squamous cell carcinoma– Squamous cell carcinoma means that some squamous cells, lined in the throat and the mouth, are abnormal.
  • Verrucous carcinoma- It is very slow- growing type of cancer of squamous cells and can spread to the tissue surrounding the site of origin.
  • Minor salivary gland carcinomas- It includes several kinds of oral cancer that can develop on the minor salivary glands, found throughout the lining of the mouth and throat.
  • Lymphomas- Oral cancers that occur in lymph tissue are known as lymphomas.
  • Benign oral cavity and oropharyngeal tumors- These are non-cancerous tumors and tumor-like conditions that may arise in the oral cavity and oropharynx.
  • Leukoplakia and erythroplakia- These are non-cancerous conditions found in the mouth or throat.

Causes of Mouth Cancer

  • Smoking & tobacco chewing
  • Excessive intake of alcohol
  • Family history of cancer
  • Prolonged exposure to sun
  • Poor oral & dental hygiene
  • Weak immune system
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor for oral cancer
  • Inhaling certain chemicals like asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes at work may increase a person’s risk to head & neck cancer

Signs & symptoms of Mouth Cancer:

  • Painful & sore throat.
  • Red or white matched in the mouth.
  • Blood in saliva.
  • Swelling in the neck that does not heal
  • Pain or difficulty in chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Foul mouth odour, not related to hygiene
  • Frequent headaches
  • Pain in tongue
  • Loosening of teeth with no apparent reason
  • A feeling that something is stuck in the throat
  • Persistent pain in neck or ear.

Stages of Mouth Cancer

  • Stage I: The tumor is too small (less than an inch) and has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage II: The tumor has increased in size by an inch and has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage III: The tumor has increased in size & may have spread to nearby lymph node on the same side of the neck as the tumor.
  • Stage IV: The cancer affects tissues around the mouth, lips, lymph nodes and other organs. 

Diagnosis of oral cancer

  • Tissue biopsy
  • Barium swallow
  • Endoscopy
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI scan
  • X-ray

Treatment of Mouth Cancer

The treatment of oral cancer depends on the stage and grade of cancer. Depending on these factors, the oncology team will decide a combination of the following interventions for your oral cancer treatment.


Mouth Cancer surgeries could be to:

Surgery to remove the localized tumor

The surgeon will remove the tumor and a small margin of healthy tissues around it. If the tumor is small, it will be a minor surgery, but if tumor is big, a section of mouth could be resected.

Surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the neck

If the surgeon suspects that the cancer may have reached the lymph nodes (through which it could spread throughout the body), the surgeon may decide for neck dissection where all adjoining lymph nodes and adjacent tissues are removed. 

Mouth Reconstruction

Generally, reconstructive surgery is done after mouth surgery for providing the functionalities of mouth through skin and bone grafting. Reconstruction is also necessary for restoring appearance of the face. 


Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drug that helps to slow or stop the growth of rapidly dividing cells that cause cancer. It prevents the growth of rapidly dividing cells by killing the dividing cells.

Despite its side effects, chemo is still the most widely used cancer treatment option. Unlike radiation and surgery which treats cancer cells at particular locations, chemotherapy drugs can kill cancer cells that have metastated (spread) to different organs in the body.

Targeted drug therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses cancer drugs. However, it is different from traditional chemotherapy, which also uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In Targeted therapy, the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival are targeted. Targeted therapy is generally used with chemotherapy and other interventions.


Immunotherapy (also called biologic therapy) is a new type of cancer treatment where the body’s immune system is boosted to help the body fight cancer by itself. Immunotherapy uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy is a kind of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation beams to kill cancer cells to shrink the tumors. Radiation kills the cancer cells by destroying the DNA. Cancer cells with damaged DNA fail to multiply and die. They are then removed by the body’s mechanism.


Is mouth cancer curable?

Mouth cancer has good prognosis if detected early.

How do we detect mouth cancer?

Lumps or enlarged lymph nodes can be felt in both sides of the neck and under the lower jaw. You should also visit dentist regularly for oral check-up.

Does tongue biopsy hurt?

The tongue is very sensitive so a needle biopsy may be uncomfortable even when numbing medicine is used. The tongue can be tender or sore, and it may feel slightly swollen after the biopsy.


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