Cancer of the lip and oral cavity is a disease in which cancer (malignant)
cells are found in the tissues of the lip or mouth. The oral cavity includes
the front two thirds of the tongue, the upper and lower gums (the gingiva), the
lining of the inside of the cheeks and lips (the buccal mucosa), the bottom
(floor) of the mouth under the tongue, the bony top of the mouth (the hard
palate), and the small area behind the wisdom teeth (the retromolar trigone).
Cancers of the head and neck are most often found in people who are over the
age of 45. Cancer of the lip is more common in men than in women, and is more
likely to develop in people with light-colored skin who have been in the sun a
lot. Cancer of the oral cavity is more common in people who chew tobacco or
A doctor should be seen if a person finds a lump in the lip, mouth, or gums,
finds a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal, or has bleeding or pain in the
mouth. Another sign of a cancer of the mouth or gums is when dentures no
longer fit well. Often lip and oral cavity cancers are found by dentists when
examining the teeth.
If there are symptoms, a doctor will examine the mouth using a mirror and
lights. The doctor may order x-rays of the mouth. If tissue that is not
normal is found, the doctor will need to cut out a small piece and look at it
under the microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. This is called a
biopsy. The patient will be given a substance to take feeling away from the
area for a short time (a local anesthetic) so no pain is felt. The doctor will
also feel the throat for lumps.
The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on where the cancer is in the lip or
mouth, whether the cancer is just in the lip or mouth or has spread to other
tissues (the stage), and the patient’s general state of health.
© Copyright 1996 - 2013 H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute