Oral cancer is a 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 cancers are most often discovered after they have spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. Early detection is key to surviving oral cancer.
Oral cancers start in a part of the mouth: the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, floor of mouth, or roof of the mouth (the palate). As they grow, they can come to involve the bones of the upper or lower jaw, they can spread to lymph nodes in the neck, or they can spread elsewhere in the body. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which is a cancer that comes from the lining on the inside of the mouth.
Tobacco and alcohol use are the strongest risk factors for oral cancer. All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, put users at risk of cancer. Tobacco and alcohol are both risk factors by themselves, but the risks are even greater for people who use both.
The most common symptom of oral cancer is pain, usually in the form of a non-healing sore which can appear white and/or red. A new lump in the neck that does not go away after several weeks can also be a sign of oral cancer.
Oral cancer is usually first treated with surgery. Radiation and/or chemotherapy therapy are sometimes recommended after surgery depending on the exact nature of the cancer. See the treatment section below for more details.
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