Mouth or Oral Cancer

What is Mouth Cancer?

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is a type of head and neck cancer. It refers to any cancer that develops in the parts that make up the mouth, including the:

  • Floor of the mouth
  • Gums
  • Inside lining of the cheeks
  • Lips
  • Roof of the mouth
  • Tongue 

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of mouth cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health. 

Signs and Symptoms

Mouth cancer symptoms may include:

  • A lump or thickened area of the skin or lining of the mouth
  • A sore that won’t heal
  • A white or reddish patch on the inside of the mouth
  • Bleeding that can’t be explained
  • Difficult or painful chewing
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Loose teeth
  • Numbness, pain or tenderness in the mouth
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Sore throat
  • Tongue pain 


To determine if someone has mouth cancer, the physician examines the lips and mouth to look for abnormalities and areas of irritation. We use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include: 

Physical exam: Part of your regular dental check-up should include your dentist’s thorough exam of your lips and mouth to spot possible abnormalities that could indicate cancer. 

Biopsy: Part or all of a suspicious area of the skin can be removed with a small scraper, brush or scalpel and a sample of the tissue is analyzed in a laboratory for cancer. 


Most cases of mouth cancer result from a mutation in cell DNA, and researchers aren’t sure of the cause. There are a number of lifestyle factors that lead to the development of mouth cancer, however. Some of these causes include:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Excessive sun exposure to the lips, especially at a young age
  • Tobacco use of any kind 

Risk Factors

Risk factors that can contribute to mouth cancer include:

Family history: Mouth cancer, and other types of head and neck cancer, can run in families.

Gender: Mouth cancer is twice as common in men as it is in women.

HPV infection: Certain types of human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus, can lead to the development of mouth cancer.


While many risk factors cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help prevent some types of mouth cancer: 

Ask about your risk: If you have a known risk of mouth cancer, ask your physician about regular screenings.

Don’t use tobacco: This significantly increases the risk of developing mouth cancer. 

Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink: Frequent drinking may lead to some mouth cancers.

Use sun protection: Apply a lip balm with SPF or sunscreen to the lips before going out in the sun.


Prognosis depends on the type and location of cancer, the stage, the person’s age and general health, and how the cancer responds to treatment. If mouth cancer is detected early, the chances of a complete cure are good. The smaller the area affected, the better the chance of a cure.

Treatment and Recovery

Mouth cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed, a person’s overall health and his or her preferences. Treatment methods may include:


Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered as a pill or injected into the bloodstream and may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells and as a means of reducing symptoms. 

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks. 


Surgery for mouth cancer may include removal of the tumor and a healthy margin of tissue, removal of cancerous lymph nodes in the neck, and/or surgery to reconstruct the mouth. Surgical procedures carry some risk for bleeding and infection, and a person may need rehabilitation therapy to speak, eat and swallow after treatment.

Targeted Therapy

Certain drugs can treat mouth cancer by taking advantage of specific defects in cancer cells that fuel their growth.


Mouth cancer can recur, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important. In addition, the cancer itself and some treatments can result in complications. These include:

Complications of radiation treatment: This may include dry mouth and trouble swallowing. 

Disfigurement of the face or neck: Extensive surgeries can cause scarring or disfigurement. In some cases, this can be helped with plastic surgery. 

Problems speaking or eating: These may be caused by the cancer itself or by surgical treatment. 

Spread of the cancer to other areas: Mouth cancer can spread to surrounding lymph nodes and other organs throughout the body.

Next Steps with MyChart

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