Mouth Cancer: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Mouth cancer comes in many forms and can affect any part of the mouth. Read this lesson to learn about the different types, causes, symptoms, and treatment options for each!

What Is Mouth Cancer?

Mouth cancer may also be known as oral cancer, and it is any type of cancer that forms in the mouth, including the lips, gums, tongue, inside of the cheeks, salivary glands, and roof or floor of the mouth. Sometimes mouth cancer is grouped with other cancers that occur in the head or neck because they have similar treatment types.

Symptoms of Mouth Cancer

There may be many symptoms of mouth cancer because different parts of the mouth may be affected. The most common symptoms include:

  • Sores that won't heal
  • A lump in or thickening of part of the mouth
  • A white or red patch found somewhere inside the mouth
  • Loose teeth or poorly fitting dentures
  • Pain in the tongue or jaw
  • Stiffness in the jaw
  • Troublesome or painful chewing
  • A sore throat
  • The feeling that something is stuck in your throat (which may indicate a lump)

If these symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, it's time to see a doctor.

An example of a mouth cancer tumor.
mouth cancer

An example of a white patch found on the inner cheek.
mouth cancer patch

Causes of Mouth Cancer

All types of cancers form when the cell mutates and multiplies instead of dying, eventually forming a tumor. In the mouth, the flat, thin cells that line the lips and inside of mouth are called squamous cells. These squamous cells are the most commonly affected by mouth cancers but scientists are still unsure why this strong correlation exists.

Certain behaviors may increase the likelihood of developing some type of mouth cancer, including use of tobacco (chewing tobacco or cigarettes), heavy alcohol use, excessive sun exposure and sunburn to the lips, and the sexually transmitted disease HPV (human papillomavirus). Avoiding exposure to these may decrease your chances of developing mouth cancer.

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