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What is Lip and Oral (Mouth) Cancer?

man holding mouth

Lip and oral (mouth) cancers are malignant (cancerous) tumors that develop in areas of the mouth including, the lip, tongue, floor of mouth, inner cheek, gums, jaw and hard palate. Mouth cancer is the most common type of cancer found within the head and neck region, making up 50,000 new cases a year in the U.S. Mouth cancer is closely connected to tobacco and alcohol use. 

Although there are several types of mouth cancer, the most common type starts in squamous cells (cells that make up the inner lining of the mouth) and is called squamous cell carcinoma. These cells may spread into deeper tissue as the cancer grows and are referred to as invasive squamous cell carcinoma.

Mouth Cancer Symptoms

Your dentist may be able to find signs of mouth cancer during a regular check up. Signs of mouth cancer may include:

  • Swelling, thickening, sores or lumps on the lip, tongue or in areas of the mouth
  • White and/or red patches that develop in areas of the mouth including the lip, gum, cheek or tongue.
  • Persistent bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth.
  • Swelling that causes dentures to not fit properly.
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing and speaking.
  • Weight loss
  • Ear pain