Oral cancer is cancer that develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat. It belongs to a larger group of cancers called head and neck cancers. Most develop in the squamous cells found in your mouth, tongue, and lips.
Oral cancer can affect any of the working parts of your mouth or oral cavity, which include the:
- tissue that lines lips and cheeks
- front two-thirds of the tongue (the back third of the tongue, or base, is considered part of the oropharynx, or throat)
- area of the mouth underneath the tongue, called the floor
- roof of the mouth
Symptoms of mouth cancer are very similar to those associated with other forms of oral cancer. It can often be mistaken for a cold that won’t go away, or a persistent sore in the mouth. Other mouth cancer symptoms and signs may include:
- Persistent tongue and/or jaw pain
- A lump or thickening in the inside of the mouth
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- A sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat that does not go away
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
A regular dental checkup twice a year is an important cancer screening tool. These visits give your dentist the chance to detect any signs of oral cancer in the earliest stages. Prompt treatment reduces the likelihood that precancerous cells will become malignant.
Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol, so you can cut down your risk of developing mouth cancer by avoiding tobacco and alcohol products.