Mouth Cancer Causes, Risk Factors, Prevention, And Treatment

Our body is a storehouse of cells with billions of cells forming an integral part of our body. Cancer occurs when a perfectly healthy cell loses its sanity developing an abnormal cell condition. These abnormal cells have quite a reputation for proliferating their number twice as faster than the normal cells, which results in these abnormal cells grow more quickly and larger than necessary, for example mouth cancer. Unlike normal cells, these cells don’t mature to the fullest, making them premature for use, but they do not die like the normal ones, which makes the situation worse.

Often at times, these cells accumulate in a specific place, which with time, forms a lump. That is in medical terms called a tumor, which is an abnormal growth of cells. These tumors, or cancer if malignant, to expand its base source, then spread to different body parts. Often a few cells break away from the primary tumor and through the blood vessels and lymph nodes travel to other parts of the body, causing cancer cell formation there. This way, cancer slowly spreads. Let us get to know in detail about the symptoms, causes and treatment of oral cancer in this article.


Mouth Cancer

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer also popular as mouth cancer refers to cancer that develops in any of the parts that form the oral cavity from lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, roof, and floor of the mouth. It has a record of depriving its patients of their life in huge numbers. Statistics say up to 5 people die every hour every day in India due to the deadly disease at hand and let’s not forget to mention the other millions suffering from mouth cancer. This disease is known to affect around 20 per 100000 population, which accounts for nearly 30 % of all cancers. (1)

Types Of Oral Cancer:

The type of mouth cancer depends on the type of cells the tumor is mainly composed of. Enlisted below are some of the major types of oral cancer.

1. Lip Cancer:

Lip cancer is the most common cancer of the mouth. It can develop as either squamous cell carcinoma from the thin flat cells that line the lips or the melanoma, which is more aggressive. It occurs as bleeding, a non-healing ulcer, lumps, pain, or numbness in the lips.

2. Gum Cancer:

Gum cancer begins in the upper or lower gums and is often mistaken for gingivitis. It usually manifests as thickened and bleeding gums or white and red patches on the gums. It is highly curable when diagnosed early.

3. Tongue Cancer:

The tongue consists of 2 parts, the base (oropharynx) and the oral tongue. Cancer of the tongue can develop in either part. It occurs as a sore that does not heal, pain, and difficulty while swallowing, bleeding, numbness, and red or white patches on the tongue.

4. Hard Palate Cancer:

It starts in the bony part of the roof of the mouth and might also spread into the nasal cavity in advanced stages. The most common sign is a sore or ulcer on the roof of the mouth. Bleeding, difficulties in swallowing, pain, bad breath, or lumps in the neck are other symptoms.

5. Floor Of The Mouth Cancer:

It begins on the floor of the mouth ( the area under the tongue ) and is quite often mistaken for canker sores. The most commonly occurring symptom is a sore on the floor of the mouth, continually increasing in size. Other symptoms include lumps in the neck, white or reddish patches in the mouth, and pain while chewing. It is highly curable when diagnosed early.

6. Buccal Mucosa Cancer:

It begins in the inner lining of the cheeks called the buccal mucosa. It may manifest as white or red patches, bleeding, lumps, cheek swelling, ill-fitting dentures, difficulty in swallowing, or bad breath (halitosis).

See Also: Symptoms Of Mouth Ulcer

Causes And Symptoms of Mouth Cancer:

Symptoms of Mouth Cancer:

1. Sores:

Often in case of mouth cancer, there are sores almost the same as canker sores, which are fleshy and white or reddish. These sores can be painful and may persist for longer than necessary, despite treatment.

2. Soreness in Throat:

If the cancer cells have targeted your throat, you will have a sore throat. At first, one might mistake it for something familiar, but later if this sore throat persists for long and increases, maybe with time, make sure you get a quick check-up done.

3. Voice Modulation:

Oral cancer might show early symptoms in the form of a coarse, rough voice, which is different than your original sound. Difficulty in swallowing or pain along with it is also a bad omen.

4. Jaw Pain and Stiffness:

Difficulty in swallowing or talking might be noticed due to jaw stiffness and pain. It usually occurs in advanced stages of cancer when it has spread locally.

5. Red and White Patches in the Throat and the Mouth:

Apart from soreness, red and white patches in the mouth are one of the most common symptoms of mouth cancer. They might occur anywhere in the oral cavity, from the tongue to the buccal mucosa.

6. Ulcers:

Mouth ulcers are also some of the common cancerous symptoms. An ulcer that refuses to heal despite adequate treatment should be checked for cancerous signs.

7. Bleeding, Pain, or Numbness in The Mouth:

Bleeding and pain without any apparent cause, numbness in the mouth, or changes in taste sensation are all symptoms of mouth cancer.

8. Lumps in The Neck:

A victim of mouth cancer will probably suffer from lumps in the neck, which are nothing but spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. This is common in both old as well as young people.

9. Loosening of Teeth and Ill-fitting Dentures:

If you have mouth cancer, then you might face loosening of teeth with no apparent reason. Recurrent visits to the dentist for ill-fitting dentures are also a cause for concern.

10. Weight Loss:

Weight loss is a very nonspecific symptom of cancer. If an individual loses about 5% of his body weight in 1-3 months, then it is significant and might be a symptom of oral cancer.

See Also: What Are The Symptoms Of Menopause

11. A Lump in The Mouth Anywhere or Thickening Of The Lining of The Mouth:

You might exhibit one or more of the symptoms above, which might not be related to oral cancer, but it is always advisable to consult your doctor.

Causes for Oral Cancer: (2)

1. Excessive Smoking or Drinking:

Usually, the main persons at risk for suffering mouth cancer are heavy smokers or someone who is intricately related to alcohol drinking. If you are more prone to consuming both alcohol and smoke, the chances are that you are probably in the top list of the to be patients. According to NIH, nicotine and alcohol vouch for around 80% of mouth cancers in men and 65% in women.

2. Chewing Gutka or Betel Nut:

People who chew gutka are at an increased risk of cancer of the mouth cancer, usually more seen in Asian countries.

3. Work Hazards:

If you are living or inhabiting an area that is close to a lot of chemical air and radiation, there is a high chance you might want to reconsider monthly check-ups to ensure you are not coming down with oral cancer. These are much more deadly in contents such as sulfuric acid or formaldehyde.

4. Gender :

The occurrence of mouth cancer is almost twice as high in men than women. It might be attributed to the higher use of tobacco and alcohol by men.

5. Diet:

Not a lot many people know, but your diet or lifestyle can cause you to suffer from oral cancer. Excessive usage of processed foods and meats and a diet low in vitamins and minerals might contribute to oral cancer.

6. HPV:

The HPV or human papillomavirus (sexually transmitted) infection can be the cause of your mouth cancer.

7. Snuffing Powdered Tobacco:

According to the analysis done on the studies conducted regarding tobacco, it has been seen that people who sniff tobacco using their nose are also at an increased risk of mouth cancer. This is kind of equivalent to smoking.

8. Ultraviolet Light:

Lip cancers are more common in people who spend more time in the sun. Tanning beds are also an increased risk of oral cancer.

9. Age:

Oral cancer is more common in older people, usually above 40. The average age of diagnosis is 60.

See Also: Causes Of Mumps

10. Oral Hygiene:

If you’re dealing with bad breath due to poor oral hygiene, then don’t ignore it. This may lead to mouth cancer if left uncorrected. In the same way, a sharp tooth or a broken tooth with a sharp edge may lead to mucosal irritation and, if left untreated, may lead to cancer also.

11. There has been no evidence found in relation to alcohol-based mouthwashes, causing mouth cancer. On the contrary, poor dental hygiene could lead to increased risk or oral cancers.

12. Other less common risk factors include a weakened immune system, graft versus host disease, lichen planus, Fanconis anemia, and congenital dyskeratosis.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Oral Cancer:


  1. Physical Examination – Dentists often find abnormalities in the oral cavity during routine check-ups such as areas of irritation, patches (leukoplakia), sores, etc.
  2. HPV testing: It may be done on a sample of the tumor removed during the biopsy, as it has been linked to a higher incidence of cancer. It helps determine the modality of treatment.
  3. Oral Brush Biopsy: This is a simple method used to detect oral cancer in routine examinations. A small brush is used to gather cells from suspicious lesions in the mouth and sent to the lab for confirmation.
  4. Endoscopy: This procedure allows the doctor to visualize the oral cavity and throat in detail and take a biopsy if any suspicious areas are visualized.
  5. X-ray: It might be helpful to confirm any abnormal findings in the mouth or neck regions.
  6. CT Scan: It can be extremely useful to detect the spread of the tumor and stage it. It also helps in determining the mode of treatment of the tumor based on its size and spread.
  7. MRI: An MRI is especially useful to determine the soft tissue extension of the tumor.
  8. PET Scan: This helps in determining the overall spread of cancer in the body.


The treatment of mouth cancer depends on various factors such as

  • The type and stage of cancer
  • The location of the cancer
  • The status of the individual’s health
  • Accessibility of the tumor

The different modalities of treatment used for oral cancer are as follows:

1. Surgery :

might be done for various purposes depending on the staging and spread of cancer

To Remove The Tumor: Small and local tumors that have not spread yet are completely cured through removal by surgery. The tumor and some surrounding tissues are resected to ensure complete removal of the tumor. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, minor or extensive procedures are done.

To Remove Lymph Nodes: If the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, neck dissection is required to be done. It is also useful to determine if radiotherapy or chemotherapy is needed, additionally or not.

Reconstruction Surgery: This helps in the reconstruction of the oral cavity after the removal of cancer to regain the ability to eat and talk. Different types of skin and tissue are utilized to reconstruct the jaw and oral cavity.

2. Radiation Therapy :

Radiotherapy uses high energy beams to kill cancer cells. It is of 2 types based on the source – external beam radiation is delivered from a machine, whereas brachytherapy comes from sources placed near your cancer.

It is often used by itself in small cancers or conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy for better cure rates. This combination increases the effectiveness but may also increase the side effects observed. In cases of advanced mouth cancer, it might be used in palliative care to reduce pain and spread.

The side effects include dryness of the mouth, tooth decay, and jawbone damage.

3. Chemotherapy :

It is a treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. It can be used alone or in addition to surgery and radiotherapy for complete removal of the tumor.

The chemicals used and side effects of chemotherapy depend upon the drugs used. The most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, and hair loss.

4. Targeted Drug Therapy :

This mode of treatment alters certain factors of cancer cells required for their growth. Cetuximab is one such drug used to treat mouth cancer.

Other drugs might be considered, but the standard ones are not effective.

5. Immunotherapy :

This mode of treatment is usually used in people with advanced stages of the disease, not responding to conventional treatment. It works by boosting the immune system to fight against cancer. Cancer cells produce certain proteins that blind the body’s immune system. Immunotherapy modifies that process.

Prevention of Mouth Cancer:

  1. Moderate the amount of alcohol or tobacco consumption per day. Even better, quit!!
  2. Protect yourself against HPV infection by practicing safe sex.
  3. Protect yourself from UV rays and sun exposure for extended periods and limit the use of tanning beds.
  4. Practice proper oral hygiene.
  5. Maintain a proper diet with all the necessary nutrients.
  6. Get regular dental check-ups.

Cancer is not always terminal. The cure rates are unusually high when detected early.

Coping with the uncertainty of cancer can be a difficult process, but dealing with it in an informed way helps.

Learn about the type and stage of cancer you have and what may have caused it to make treatment decisions wisely.

Do not hesitate to seek support from friends and family.

Talk to other mouth cancer survivors.

Most importantly, do not panic. Avoid doing things that worsen your symptoms and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Any cancer can be overcome with the right mindset and informed treatment, so be positive always!!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not intended, and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional expertise and treatment. If you have a medical concern, you should seek expert medical treatment immediately.


1. How Long Can You Live With Mouth Cancer?

Overall, 60% of oral cancer patients have a five-year survival rate. The earlier your cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chances of survival. Stage 1 cancer patients have an 80-90% survival rate when detected early.

2. What Does Early-stage Mouth Cancer Look Like?

Early symptoms include non-healing sores, bleeding, white or red patches in the mouth or any abnormal lumps in the oral cavity.

3. Which Doctor Should I Consult If I Have A Doubt Regarding Oral Cancer?

You should consult either an ENT specialist or an oncologist if you have any symptoms pertaining to oral cancer.

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