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Mouth Cancer


What is mouth cancer?

Mouth cancer means cancer cells form on the lips or in the mouth or throat. The most common type of mouth cancer is squamous cell carcinoma.

What increases my risk for mouth cancer?

  • Tobacco and alcohol
  • Certain foods and drinks, including mate (tea-like beverage)
  • A family history of mouth cancer
  • Conditions such as human papilloma virus (HPV), syphilis, or immunosuppression
  • Oral thrush
  • Radiation, sun exposure, or occupational risks (working with rubber, asbestos, and dust)

What are the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer?

  • A sore that will not heal
  • A red or white patch in your mouth
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness on your lips or in your mouth
  • Loose teeth or a change in the way your teeth fit together
  • Pain or trouble opening your mouth
  • A lump in your mouth, throat, or neck
  • Trouble swallowing, change or loss of taste
  • A cough or sore throat that will not go away, or ear pain

How is mouth cancer diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check the inside of your cheeks and lips. He or she will also check your gums, tongue, and the top and bottom of your mouth. Your provider will feel your neck for swollen lymph glands. You may also need any of the following:

  • Tissue staining is a procedure to see if the tissue looks normal or abnormal. Dye is placed on the lesions in your mouth to check the reaction.
  • CT or MRI pictures may show nodules, masses, or tissue thickening. You may be given contrast liquid to help the mouth cancer show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A biopsy (sample of mouth tissue) may be taken and checked for cancer.
  • An endoscopy is a procedure used to look directly at the tissues of your mouth, throat, and upper airway. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a light and camera on the end.

How is mouth cancer treated?

  • Surgery is the preferred treatment for mouth cancer. Surgery is used to remove the cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy is a procedure that uses radiation used to kill cancer cells and stop the cancer from spreading. It may be used with or without surgery.
  • Chemotherapy is a type of medicine that may be used with or without radiation to kill the cancer cells.
  • Biotherapy are medicines that may boost your immune system making it easier for your body to fight the cancer.

What can I do to manage mouth cancer?

  • Do not use tobacco. Tobacco products may make your symptoms and cancer worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk for mouth cancer. Alcohol may also make your symptoms worse.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Take small bites, and chew your food well before you swallow. Be especially careful when you eat meat, fruits, and vegetables. You may need to change what you eat during treatment. A dietitian may help to plan the best meals and snacks for you.
  • Drink liquids as directed. If you have nausea or diarrhea from cancer treatment, extra liquids may help decrease your risk for dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise may help increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.
    Walking for Exercise

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • Your mouth or throat is bleeding.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fever
  • You are having a hard time swallowing.
  • You have warmth, pain, or redness in your mouth or throat.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.