Mouth Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


Mouth Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in patients above the age of 40. Mouth cancer belongs to a broad category or neck and head cancer. Oral cancer refers to the growth of cancer cells that occur in the squamous cells located in the lips, tongue and mouth. Oral cancer claims most deaths due to the fact that it is hard to detected. Most cases of oral cancer are detected when cancer has spread reaching the lymph nodes in the neck.

Mouth Cancer

Detecting the presence of cancerous cells early is the key to treating oral cancer. In this article, we will try and understand the types, symptoms and treatment of oral cancer to help provide you with a better picture of the ailment to help you detect it faster.

What is Mouth Cancer?

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer (Oral Cavity Cancer) is a type of cancer that develops in the mouth. This is also medically termed as the oral cavity. Almost all the cases of oral cancer are squamous cell carcinoma that occurs in the lips, tongue, the cells present in the cheeks inside lining, the upper hard palate of the mouth, gums and teeth and the base of the mouth.

Apart from these places, when cancer occurs in the section of throat located behind your mouth its called as oropharyngeal cancer. This section of your body has a huge impact on your health as it regulates key body functions such as speaking, swallowing and breathing. This makes cancer that affects the oropharynx extremely dangerous.

The position of oral cancer can never be predicted, because it has the ability to appear anywhere in the oral cavity and this poses certain risks to the approach or treatment to be taken. There are several parts in the oral cavity which function in different ways. For example, the salivary glands situated in the mouth will start to digest the food in the mouth as soon as you begin to chew. Therefore the treatment of cancer originating from different spots in the mouth will have different effects and different approach to treatment.

It’s also interesting to notice that more cases of oral cancer are usually reported among men above 40 years while compared with that of women. This is mainly because of the lifestyle changes between both genders where men are more susceptible to external factors such as addiction to smoking and oral usage of other tobacco products. The amount of pollution exposed towards men is also considerably high when taking into account the number of men engaged in outdoor works and labour.

There are many types of mouth cancer that you can be affected with. In the below section we will describe the kinds of cancer that can affect you in the oral region.

Also Read:  Laryngeal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Types of Mouth Cancer:

1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that is the most prevalent in oral cancer conditions. Squamous cells are present in the inner lining of the oral cavity including your mouth and cheeks. Squamous cells are characterized by its scale-like structure. Squamous cell carcinoma refers to the type of cancer that affects these cells that are present in the mouth. Squamous cell carcinoma is also the most common kind of cancer that affects the throat causing throat cancer.

2. Verrucous Carcinoma:

Verrucous carcinoma accounts to about 5% of cases registered under oral cancer. This specific carcinoma is characterized by a slow onset of cancer in the squamous cell. The slow nature of progression is one of the most crucial aspects of the conditions as it makes diagnosis begin at a much later stage than normal cancer which metastases at a faster pace. Verrucous carcinoma does not usually spread away fast, however, it still has the ability to infect important tissues from the spot from which it originated.

3. Minor Salivary Gland Carcinoma:

This kind of cancer refers to the kind of cancer that can be affecting your salivary glands. The salivary glands are responsible for the process of digestion that begins in the mouth. This kind of cancer can affect your salivary glands that are present in your inner mouth. Cancer to the salivary glands can be very painful as the secretion of saliva becomes painful. Mostly salivary glands are affected by adenoid cystic carcinomas and polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma.

4. Lymphomas:

Lymph nodes are a part of our immune system and cover a large area of our body. There are lymph tissues that are present under your tongue and cancer that affects these tissues also comes under oral cancer. Lymphomas are extremely dangerous as it can spread very soon due to the extensive network of the lymphatic system.

5. Leukoplakia and Erythroplakia:

Leukoplakia is a non-cancerous condition that presents itself with symptoms such as an area with white discolouration in your mouth. Even though it is non-cancerous, there are high chances that it might become cancer due to its pre-cancerous properties. Erythroplakia presents itself with symptoms including a red area of discolouration which will usually appear on a raised or flat section and bleeds profusely when scraped. A biopsy is carried out to make sure that the pre-cancerous properties of this condition do not trigger cancer.

Also Read:  Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

Risk Factors and Causes for Mouth Cancer:

Mouth cancer is a very unsettling condition that can affect the patient physically in a very bad way and also takes a toll on the overall mental health of the patient. In the below section we will try and understand the different causes and risk factors that can lead to oral cancer.

  • Gender: Gender plays an important role in the development of oral cancer. Studies have shown that people of the male gender are more likely to be affected by oral cancer when compared with people of other genders. Recent studies have shown that men are 3 times more likely to be affected by oral cancer than women. It also showed that the gender gap between both genders are reducing since more women these days are being exposed to smoking and drinking.
  • Ultraviolet Light: UV light is a very harmful light that is produced by the sun. The ozone layer on the top of the atmosphere is responsible for the protection against UV light. Due to various factors including global warming and rising levels of industrial pollution, the ozone layer has started to develop holes which are making the UV light enter the atmosphere. This kind of light is responsible for the development of cancer in the melanin cells causing melanoma more commonly known as skin cancer. Labourers who work outside in the sun has high chances of being affected by lip cancer due to the prolonged exposure to ultraviolet lights.
  • Genetic Syndromes: Genetics play an important role in the development of oral cancer or any cancer in that aspect. Some of the genetic syndromes caused due to the mutation of the cells are listed below:
  • Fanconi Anemia: Fanconi Anemia is a genetic condition that causes abnormalities in your blood. Studies have shown that people with Fanconi anaemia are highly likely to be affected with oral cancer with the difference going up to 500 times more likely. Fanconi Anemia can start showing symptoms in the early stages of life making it hard for children to cope with it.
  • Dyskeratosis Congenita: This specific genetic mutation can cause malfunctioning conditions such as aplastic anaemia which can have a significant impact on your chances of being affected with oral cancer.
  • Tobacco Use: Tobacco use has been linked to mouth cancer for a long time. These days cigarette packets come with warnings that show that the use of tobacco can put your life at risk by increasing the chances of being affected by cancer. Studies have shown that about 80% of people affected with oral cancer or oropharyngeal cancer use tobacco in the form cigarettes or chewables. The use of tobacco can lead to cancer in the throat, cheeks, gums and the backside of the lips.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is a leading cause factor for cancer and many other unfavourable health conditions. Studies have shown that almost 70% of patients who are being treated for oral cancer have been excessive drinkers. The combination of alcohol and tobacco abuse is a really dangerous potion to get affected by mouth cancer. Factors such as the duration and the frequency of use are the main factors that lead to the formation of cancer due to alcohol abuse.
  • Betel Quid: Betel Quid is a delicacy of the people who settle in the regions of south and southeast Asia. This is prepared with the leaves of the betel plant and is mixed with locally grown areca nut with the combination of lime. It gives a very mellowing effect and relieves stress like a cigarette. Betel quids are however a great risk to develop cancer if used regularly. Chewing of other tobacco products such as gutka is also another major risk to develop mouth cancer.
  • Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV): HPV infections are a leading contributing factor for cancer. It is a class of virus containing more than a hundred viruses. An infection of HPV in your mouth has high chances of developing into oral cancer, studies show that among patients suffering from cancer in the oral cavity and the oropharyngeal region, 25% were affected with HPV infections.
  • Immune System Suppression: Taking certain medications that are used to suppress your immune system can increase the risk of oral cancer. This kind of medication is usually taken when someone has undergone an organ transplant surgery and the immune system has to be suppressed to make sure the organ does not get rejected. These medicines are also used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Symptoms of Mouth Cancer:

Mouth cancer can affect anyone and early detection can go a long way in helping the patients treatment and fast recovery. Mouth cancer or oral cancer presents itself with multiple symptoms that are listed below. In some cases such as HPV infection, there might be no symptoms shown in the initial stages which makes diagnosis extremely difficult.

1Mouth SoresA persistent sore in your mouth which refuses to go away is one of the most evident symptoms of mouth cancer. The sore may or may not present itself with pain, however, the sore will make the discomfort very evident.
2PainA pain in your cavity is one of the principal signs of oral cancer. Mouth cancer pain is the number one reason that leads the patient to the hospital.
3LumpsA lump inside your mouth can be a sign of oral cancer. It can also appear in the form of thickening in the cheeks. These lumps or thickenings can be easily observed by someone screening your mouth for mouth cancer.
4PatchesMouth cancer can sometimes show symptoms such as white or red patches anywhere inside your mouth. These have chances to be precancerous growth and has to be checked out immediately. Sometimes these patches elevate the area of appearance making it extremely painful for the patient.
5A Sore ThroatA sore throat or the feeling that something is stuck in your throat is a classic sign of mouth cancer. It will start developing to a stage where the patient will find it difficult to swallow or even talk.
6Numbness & SwellingNumbness in the tongue or any other region inside the mouth is a symptom of mouth cancer. Apart from this if you experience a swelling in the gums or jaws that might lead to the shaking of the tooth are also signs of mouth cancer.
7Bad BreathA bad breath that does not go away can be a sign of mouth cancer. This type of bad breath is very persistent and can only be masked by the use of mouth fresheners.
8Weight LossThe overall loss of body weight can be a symptom of many illnesses. In mouth cancer affected patients too, you can see a significant reduction in the weight of the individual that happens at a rapid pace.

Treatments for Mouth Cancer:

Mouth cancer is treated like any other cancer. Even though the medicines and methods applied are similar to other forms of cancer, the potentially dangerous position of the cancer cells calls for extra care and changes in the methods of execution. Apart from oncologists, oral cancer can also be treated by dentists who specialize in maxillofacial surgery. You can find the list of the most common treatment methods applied for the treatment of oral cancer below:

1. Surgery:

Surgery is a surgical method of treatment used to treat patients suffering from mouth cancer. Surgery aims at manually removing the cancer cells and the affected tissue in an operation theatre. The spot and the approach towards surgery will be determined based on the size and location of the tumour along with the stage of cancer the patient is in.

Surgical methods of treatment are usually used in the initial stages of cancer, where the cancerous cells have not spread to a different location. As a part of the extensive surgery, the surgeon may remove nearby affected tissues from the cheeks and other sections of the mouth. Once a tumour and affected cells are removed successfully the patient needs to be taken care of very well to ensure that cancer does not reappear.

2. Radiation Therapy:

Radiation therapy is a form of treatment that is used to kill the cancerous cells from a specific location. Radiation therapy uses radiation beams that are directly exposed to the tumours causing the death of the cancerous cell. Radiation therapy has to be done frequently and involves sessions radiation exposure 2 times a day for over a week. Radiation therapy is highly effective in killing the cancer cells, yet they come with a huge bag of side effects which include nausea and hair fall.

3. Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy refers to the use of medications to prevent the spreading of the cancer cells. In this form of treatment, the patient is given high doses of medicines such as cytotoxic drugs that will help in the elimination of cancer cells as they divide. The whole point of chemotherapy is to prevent the spreading and the growth of a tumour. Chemotherapy can be given orally or through intravenous injections.

In some cases, doctors use chemotherapy to cut off the food source of a tumour and the blood supply by targeting the enzymes and hormones that are required for a tumour to grow. They also target the blood vessel that supplies blood to a tumour. Chemotherapy for oral cancer, however, comes with a barrage of side effects that will depend upon the size and the stage the tumour is in.

4. Targeted Therapy:

Targeted therapy is a method of treatment that is used to treat mouth cancer. In targeted therapy, the patient is given a set of specific drugs that will bind with certain essential proteins in the cancer cells that will inhibit its growth and spread. Target therapy is highly effective and comes with a lesser baggage of side effects when compared to the other methods of treatment. Targeted therapy can be of great help when it is conducted in the early stages of cancer, following early detection.

5. Nutrition:

Since mouth cancer primarily affects the oral cavity and the head and neck regions, it becomes very difficult for the patient to keep up their regular food intake. Therefore its essential that the patient receives the required nutrition to keep him/her in course for treatment. Dietitians and nutrition specialist will work closely with your oncologist to determine the size and position of your tumour and will give a diet plan which will cause you the least discomfort.

6. Oral Hygiene:

Maintaining a more than satisfactory level of oral hygiene is important when you are taking a treatment for mouth cancer. The extensive treatment can open up your mouth to various invasive tools that can increase the chances for infections and other complications. It’s important that you follow your dentist’s instructions to ensure that your oral hygiene remains satisfactory.

Oral cancer can be deadly if not treated soon, it’s important that you take regular oral check-ups to find out abnormalities or any precancerous growths in your mouth or oral cavity to ensure that you remain safe from mouth cancer.


Now that you have a fair idea of what mouth cancer is and what are the symptoms and treatments for the same there might be some questions that must be bothering you. In the below section we will try and answer the most frequently asked questions about mouth cancer.

1. What are the first signs of mouth cancer?

There are many symptoms that mouth cancer shows in the initial stages. The signs will depend upon the position of the tumor and the size of it. Some of the common symptoms are explained above and mainly consists of sores, pain, patches, swelling and persistent bad breath.

2. Is mouth cancer curable?

Mouth cancer like any other cancer can be cured, but will always have chances of remission. The treatment methods involves surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and proper nutrition.

3. How to prevent mouth cancer from chewing tobacco?

Use of tobacco increases your chances of being affected with oral cancer a lot. There are no specific prevention methods that will allow you to keep using tobacco and stay away from mouth cancer. It will be advisable that you aim at reducing the use of tobacco over a period and stop it completely in the gradual course. Keeping a good oral hygiene can reduce your chances but cannot completely prevent mouth cancer.

4. What happens if mouth cancer is not treated?

If mouth cancer is left untreated it can guarantee the death of the patient. Mouth cancer occurs in one of the most crucial positions of the human body and has the ability to spread to other parts of the body at a fast pace. The patient will face high discomfort in swallowing food and the condition will worsen as time goes by.

News on Mouth Cancer (Oral Cancer)

3D Printing Can Help Reconstruct Faces of Persons Suffering From Oral Cancer

-30th Nov 2018

Neurologists and Cardiologists in Jaipur are already using 3D printing to operate on patients with higher success rates. These medical professionals now believe that 3D printing can now help doctors in plastic surgery and help recreate the faces of patients undergoing surgery for oral cancer. Generally, if a person is suffering from mouth cancer, the surgeon is forced to remove a chunk of flesh and muscle, along with the jawbone of the individual, the size of these parts being removed depends on the size of the tumor. This removal of jawbone and flesh and muscles distorts the face of the individual. Doctors in Jaipur now believe that molds from 3D printers can help recreate the faces of patients in great detail. These group of doctors has already reached out to Sawai Man Singh Medical College, asking them to provide this facility to the patients.

3D printers have been in use at Sawai Man Singh Medical College since 2016, where they have been used to scan and recreate models of the neck and head junctions to help neurosurgeons perform accurate surgeries. In fact, a 3D printer was also used to take a 3D print of the heart to help diagnose a cardiovascular disease.

It is now believed that medical professionals feel confident enough to start with plastic surgery.

114% Increase in Oral Cancer Cases in India in 6 Years

– 20th Nov 2018

National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, Indian Council of Medical Research recently published data from the past six years, showing that in 2018 nearly 11.5 lakh cases of mouth or oral cancer were reported as opposed to 10 lakh cases in 2012. According to the GLOBOCAN 2018, India fact sheet, the number of oral cancer cases have gone up from 56,000 cases in 2012, to nearly 1,20,000, which indicate an increase of around 114%. However, oral cancer is not the only type of cancer which has witnessed a dramatic rise in the reporting and numbers. Data reveals that cancer-related deaths have increased by 12% in the past six years, from 7 lakhs in 2012, to 7.8 lakhs in 2018.

The second highest growing cancer is breast cancer, which has increased from 1,45,000 in 2012 to over 1,62,000 in 2018. While no one is certain about the development of oral cancer in patients, a likely cause is an increased use of tobacco. Doctors and even governments have started awareness programs to encourage users to stop consuming tobacco in any form.

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