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What are the Different Symptoms of Lip Cancer?

K.C. Bruning
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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It is easy to miss the first symptoms of lip cancer. In its early stages, the disease is usually painless, and there do not tend to be obvious physical signs of a problem. It could show up as patches of red or white, or manifest itself as a small ulcer that looks similar to the more benign canker sore. In more advanced stages, the symptoms of lip cancer may appear as lesions or sores on the lips, or a thick, lumpy feeling in the area. Lips may also be numb or painful, but just as often there is no sensation at all.

Even when lip cancer becomes visible, it can be difficult to distinguish from other ailments of the mouth. Discolorations or ulcers on the lips are usually benign, but if they do not heal within two weeks, they should be examined by a doctor as potential symptoms of lip cancer. Dentists and doctors are more likely to be able to detect the disease in its early stages, as they are more alert to and knowledgeable about changes in the mouth tissue. They may even be able to detect the cancer before testing.

If treated early, symptoms of lip cancer can be relatively mild. A biopsy should be performed as soon as possible if a lump, ulcer or discoloration is deemed suspicious by a medical professional. If not caught in the early stages, lip cancer can spread to through the oral cavity and down to the neck. Fast treatment is especially important with lip cancer as it can spread quickly.

Lip cancer is not common, but it can be extremely serious if not caught in its early stages. Swollen lymph glands in the neck are a sign of more advanced lip cancer. By this time, lumps may be noticeable in the mouth and neck. Once the lymph glands are affected, there is increased danger of the cancer spreading via lymph fluid and blood to the rest of the body.

Treatment for lip cancer typically involves a team effort between an oncologist and a dentist, the former performing surgery and the latter providing additional oversight. Usually treatment begins with surgery to remove the cancerous lump. Lymph nodes may also be removed from the neck so that tests can be done to ensure that the cancer has not begun to spread. After surgery, radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells is common. Chemotherapy may be used if the disease is more aggressive or advanced.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
K.C. Bruning
By K.C. Bruning
Kendahl Cruver Bruning, a versatile writer and editor, creates engaging content for a wide range of publications and platforms, including The Health Board. With a degree in English, she crafts compelling blog posts, web copy, resumes, and articles that resonate with readers. Bruning also showcases her passion for writing and learning through her own review site and podcast, offering unique perspectives on various topics.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Sep 27, 2013

@ysmina-- Is the sore on the bottom lip or top lip? I heard that lip cancer more commonly occurs on the bottom lip. The sore may also occur close to the inside of the mouth and not exactly on top of the lip.

If it's cancer, the sore may get bigger, it might bleed and it might be painful.

By serenesurface — On Sep 26, 2013

@ysmina-- Don't freak out just yet! A sore that doesn't heal may be a sign of lip cancer. But the cause could also be something else, like a vitamin deficiency or a medication you're using. Stay calm and make an appointment with your doctor to have it checked out.

If your doctor suspects cancer, he will ask for a biopsy which will confirm what the sore is.

I had a sore like that and I thought it was lip cancer, my doctor did too. I had a biopsy done and it turned out to be benign, thankfully.

By ysmina — On Sep 26, 2013

I have a cold sore on my lip that is not going away. It has been three weeks! I am freaking out because my cold sores usually disappear in a week. Could this be a sign of lip cancer or mouth cancer?

K.C. Bruning
K.C. Bruning
Kendahl Cruver Bruning, a versatile writer and editor, creates engaging content for a wide range of publications and...
Learn more
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