Oral cancer is also known as mouth cancer and it can appear anywhere inside of the mouth. As per medical health professionals, it is considered as a type of head and neck cancer. It can occur under the tongue, the roof of the mouth, inner lining of the cheeks, tongue, gums, and lips. If a person develops cancer in his mouth is called as oral cavity cancer. Treatment is the same for every type of head and neck cancer.

What are the indicators of oral cancer?

Difficulty swallowing or experiencing severe pain while swallowing, pain in the ear, pain in the mouth, lump inside your mouth, reddish patch on the inside of your mouth, loose teeth, and a lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal is considered as the symptoms of oral cancer or mouth cancer.

When to consult a physician

Consult your doctor or a therapist immediately if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above. Your doctor should evaluate you for other possible causes of your symptoms before treating an existing condition. Together, you and your doctor can determine the best way to manage your symptoms.

What are the causes of mouth cancer?

When abnormal changes are happening to the lips or in the mouth is considered as a warning sign of mouth cancer. These cancer cells form only when there are a lot of changes in the person DNA. Every cell’s DNA has some instructions to follow and it does what a cell told to do. Healthy cells in your body will become vanished and these mutations will continue to grow. When healthy cells die, it would lead to the formation of abnormal mouth cancer cells and a person can develop a tumour in his mouth due to these cells. It can occur anywhere inside the mouth and it can spread other parts of the body very rapidly.

It is not clear for the researchers to what causes the abnormal mouth cancer cells and there are a variety of risk factors that can develop this condition.

What are the risk factors of mouth cancer?

A weakened immune system, addiction of alcohol, heavy sun exposure to your lips, human papillomavirus, and the use of any kind of tobacco. It includes

It is advised to avoid the above risk factors to prevent oral cancer or mouth cancer.

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

To diagnose this condition, your physician may ask a detailed history of the symptoms you are experiencing in the past few days. Following are the tests and procedures to confirm the diagnosis of oral cancer. It includes

  • Physical exam
  • Removal of tissue for testing (biopsy)
  • Endoscopy
  • Imaging tests

Let’s discuss the above tests in detail:

Physical exam

After listening to what you said, your physician will conduct a physical exam for a better understanding of your condition. He or she will look for the signs and symptoms of oral cancer by examining your lips and mouth.

Removal of tissue for testing (biopsy)

If your physician may find any suspicious area on your body, he or she will remove it and sent to the laboratory for analysis. This procedure is known as a biopsy. It is considered as the great technique to detect cancer and it provides necessary information about the cancer cells or precancerous changes in the suspicious area.


This procedure is used to know cancer has spread to what extent of your mouth. An Ear nose and throat specialist will conduct this test and it involves using a small camera to inspect your mouth.

Imaging tests

Your physician may recommend imaging tests to know the spread of your cancer in the mouth. These tests include


  • X-ray
  • Computed tomography
  • Magnetic resonance imagining, and
  • Positron emission tomography.

The above tests can give a detailed image of your mouth and provides the necessary information to your physician.

What are the treatment options available for oral cancer?

Many treatment options will benefit the patient with less hospital stay and fewer complications. It includes

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Let’s discuss the above treatment options in detail


Your physician may recommend surgery when he or she identified a tumour in your mouth. It is easy for your physician to remove a small tumour but your surgeon has to struggle when it comes to removing a larger tumour. There are lots of complications associated with large tumour as it involves removing a section of your jawbone or portion of your tongue.

If the lymph nodes are also affected by the cancer cells, then your physician may need to remove it surgically. Your surgeon follows a procedure called neck dissection and it involves removing the tissues in the neck.

It will be difficult for you to live your life after the surgery as it can affect your ability to speak and your physician may recommend a tube to help you consume foods and taking medications.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy

The main objective of this therapy is to destroy cancer cells in the area by using high-energy beams. This therapy is used after the surgery or your physician may recommend this therapy as a primary treatment if you are in the early stage of your cancer. Following are the possible side effects of radiation therapy including

  • Dry mouth
  • Tooth decay
  • Damage to your jawbone


Chemotherapy also aims to kill the cancer cells by using the chemicals. These drugs can be used in the management of oral cancer and it is better to combine chemotherapy drugs with radiation therapy as it can increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy. Following are the possible side effects of chemotherapy. It includes

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of hair

The above side effects can occur at any time during medication use. It is advised to consult a physician when you are experiencing the side effects of this therapy. Your physician may change the dosage of the medication or switch you to another one.

Targeted drug therapy

This therapy is used to changing the aspects of cancer cells that fuel their growth. Your physician may prescribe Cetuximab (Erbitux) drug in this therapy. It is not the first choice of treatment option for you but your doctor recommends this therapy when other treatment options are failed. Side effects of targeted drug therapy include

  • Rashes appear on the skin
  • Itching
  • Pain in the head
  • Diarrhea
  • Infections


This therapy focuses on improving the function of your immune system to fight against cancer cells. Immunotherapy is not the first line of treatment to the people with oral cancer, but when the people are not responded to standard procedures then immunotherapy comes into act.

What are the lifestyle modifications to treat mouth cancer?

A well-balanced diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the chances of experiencing these adverse conditions associated with oral cancer. Following are the other lifestyle changes to fight against oral cancer.

Say no to tobacco


Tobacco is the main reason behind the mouth cancer and you have an increased risk of getting diagnosed with oral cancer again if you continue to smoke even after the treatment.

Stop consuming alcohol

You have a greater risk of developing oral cancer if you are unable to quit alcohol and if it is combined with the use of tobacco. Quitting all types of alcohol can put you far away from second cancer.


Exercise can increase your physical strength as well as mental strength too. People are unable to quit bad habits due to their mental weakness and moderate exercise after the cancer treatment may improve your quality of life.


Maintain your calm by following some relaxation techniques such as doing meditation and listening to your favourite songs.

How do you prevent mouth cancer?

Preventing mouth cancer is easy to do especially if you know the symptoms or have had it before. Try to avoid excessive alcohol and consult a dentist every three months. Early detection can save lives and reduce the risk of complications. Preventing this condition is about knowing your body, your medical history, and avoiding heavy sun exposure to your lips.


Bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol may increase the severity of symptoms. If you are experiencing oral or mouth cancer symptoms talk with your physician about what’s going on and they can review with you about your family history and help you to determine what options are best for you. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637760/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK343649/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4633227/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435300/

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Last Update: May 29, 2020