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What is Mouth Cancer?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Mouth cancer includes those cancers that can affect any part of the mouth and oral cavity. Those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol or regularly use tobacco products are at increased risk for developing some form of oral cancer. Belonging to the classification of head and neck cancers, mouth cancer generally necessitates surgery and follow-up treatment that can involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both.

There is no known, definitive cause for the cell mutation involved with the development of mouth cancer. Often originating in the squamous cells, the cellular mutations replicate unchecked and accumulate to form a tumor. Oral cancer may initially present in a single area, such as the inner cheek or on the lower lip, before metastasizing to other parts of the oral cavity.

Abnormal changes in the mouth, such as tissue discoloration or lesion formation, may be initially evaluated during a consultation and physical examination with a physician or dentist. A biopsy will usually be performed on the abnormal tissue to determine whether or not the changes are due to malignancy. Once discovered, a malignancy will generally necessitate additional laboratory and diagnostic tests to determine its staging, or severity.

Individuals who develop mouth cancer will exhibit a variety of signs and symptoms that are usually dependent on the location and invasiveness of the cancer. Preliminary signs of mouth cancer can include single or multiple lesions that do not heal, red or white patches within the oral cavity, and jaw or mouth discomfort when swallowing or chewing. Some may develop a raised area, or lump, inside the mouth or experience a persistent sore throat.

Treatment options for mouth cancer are also entirely dependent on the staging and location of the tumor, as well as the overall health of the individual. Nearly all treatment approaches involve the surgical excision of the tumor and affected tissues in the immediate area. Aggressive cancers may necessitate the removal of lymph nodes and additional portions of muscle or jawbone. Those who undergo such extensive surgery often require reconstructive surgery.

Following the removal of cancerous tissues, individuals will generally be given chemo and/or radiation therapies to eradicate any remaining cancerous cells and inhibit the growth of new ones. Both oral and intravenous administrations of chemotherapy carry a significant risk for side effects that can include pronounced fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Those who undergo radiation therapy may develop side effects that can include jaw discomfort, tissue inflammation and irritation at the administration site, and dry mouth.

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Discussion Comments
By Clairdelune — On Nov 06, 2011

It's so important that those who have symptoms of possible mouth cancer to get into the doctor pronto to have it checked out. Too many people ignore symptoms, out of fear many times, instead of getting the sore or skin change tested.

If mouth cancer, or any kind of cancer, is caught early, treatment is usually not too invasive and often successful.

By sweetPeas — On Nov 06, 2011

Like any cancer, mouth cancer is a horrible disease. But in a great many cases, it is preventable. The addictive habits of too much alcohol, smoking, and especially chewing tobacco are known causes of mouth cancer. I know a lot of baseball players used to chew tobacco. I hope they are more aware now and the incidence of chewing is down among baseball players.

I'm so glad that way fewer people smoke than just a few decades ago. I just hope the young people don't take up the habit.

By poppyseed — On Nov 05, 2011

You know what; any kind of cancer is horrifying. However, I had my own, personal mouth cancer paranoia for a while.

I never had done anything outrageous in my whole life, even down to drinking and smoking. I just never had done much of either. And then one day, my life sort of got turned upside down and I decided that I needed a smoke.

Like I said, I never had done any of that sort of thing at all, so I have no clue what made me go that way. It could have been a lot worse though.

Well, after about a month of smoking cigarettes a little and then, a little more, I realized how people became addicted to the things.

However, I happened to see one of those commercials on television with the folks who’ve had all of these horrible things happen because they smoked. I’d never paid much attention, as I’d never been a smoker. I did this time, though.

I ended up kicking that habit before it could get very bad, which is a good thing. However, for months after that, I feared mouth cancer was upon me!

I don’t mean to be laughing at a serious illness; I just now doubt that a couple of months of smoking would cause something that severe.

By Izzy78 — On Nov 04, 2011

Does anyone know what early signs of mouth cancer are? I have heard that for a regular person it is not exactly the easiest thing to detect and it is entirely possible to not have the procedure done surgically if it is caught early on.

Most of the time when they have to remove the growth surgically the patient has let the cancer go on for too long and they are left with no choice. I have heard that it is possible to shrink the growth with a laser if it is small enough and in the early stages.

By matthewc23 — On Nov 03, 2011

@TreeMan - You are correct. Almost every time someone has mouth cancer and it removes the growth to be removed surgically it is almost a guarantee that it will deform the persons face in some way.

To treat mouth cancer surgically the procedure is not exactly meant to correct and sustain the growth, it is more like an amputation and this usually means part of the face will be taken away.

I once knew someone that had mouth cancer and they had almost their entire bottom lip removed. Although they were fine afterwards, they definitely did not look the same after and it was simply a product of the procedure that needed to be done.

By TreeMan — On Nov 03, 2011

@jcraig - That is a very sad story and it seems like this person you talked about had to learn the hard way.

I have seen mouth cancer pictures and I have to say that it is not at all a pretty sight. Some people have large scars from when they removed the cancer surgically and some people have entire parts of their face taken off. Either way whenever someone is diagnosed with mouth cancer and operation is necessary to stop the spread you can expect that they will not look the same before they went into the surgery.

By jcraig — On Nov 02, 2011

I know someone that chewed from when they were 14 up until they were 22 and they had mouth cancer spring up twice.

The first time he got mouth cancer he waved it off and wanted to act like a tough guy and continued to chew. They were able to do a little chemo on his mouth and were at least able to stop it. However, he did not learn his lesson and went back to chewing and dipping tobacco.

Later, the cancer showed up again and they were forced to remove a growth surgically. Because of the surgery he has a giant scar on his lip and looks completely different than before. He has learned his lesson since then and know chews a lot of gum, but he could have easily prevented what ended up happening.

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