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Types of Lip and Oral (Mouth) Cancer

Mouth cancer can develop in several different ways. The type of mouth cancer you have will require different treatment plans and care. Types of mouth cancer treated by the Penn Head and Neck Cancer team include:

Types of Mouth Cancer by Region

Individuals are at higher risk for mouth cancer if they are smokers or drink alcohol or have been exposed to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Mouth cancer can form in various regions of the mouth, including:


Lip cancer is the most common area of mouth cancer. It is both a skin cancer and an oral cancer, but is typically treated as an oral cancer depending on the location. If diagnosed early, the prognosis for lip cancer is favorable. With early detection, treatment is usually surgery without the need for radiation therapy, chemotherapy or lymph node removal. More advanced cases can result in the spread of tumors into nearby nerves and the jawbone which may require more extensive surgery and treatments. Members of the reconstructive team at Penn Center for Head and Neck Cancer use the latest advancements to reconstruct defects of the upper lip with minimal to no scarring, while maintaining competence of the lips to prevent problems such as drooling or difficulty speaking. 

Gum and Jaw

Gum and jaw cancer can occur in the upper and lower gums and as it progresses, invade the underlying jaw. Gum cancer is linked to smoking, use of chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol use. Those with gum cancer may experience bleeding, thickening, cracking or sores on their gums. Gum and jaw cancer may require removal of a partial or full segment of either the upper or lower jawbone. In more advanced cases where removal of the full segment of jawbone is necessary, a patient will need facial reconstruction. Penn Head and Neck reconstructive surgeons use personalized computer based technology to simulate the surgery called virtual surgical planning (VSP). With VSP, surgeons are able to accurately customize jawbone implants for the best possible result and reduce time in the operating room using the latest techniques. 


Tongue cancer is the most common area of mouth cancer in the U.S. and occurs in the front two-thirds of the tongue (base of tongue cancer is known as an oropharyngeal or throat cancer). Tongue cancer is known to be high risk for spreading to the lymph nodes within the neck. Individuals may experience bleeding, red or white patches on the tongue, pain, numbness and difficulty swallowing. Treatment may involve surgical removal of part of the tongue. Penn Head and Neck surgeons can reconstruct the tongue using tissue taken from the forearm or thigh. Reconstruction of the tongue will allow optimal tongue function, including the ability to speak and swallow.