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Oral cancer

Oral cancer types

Every oral cancer patient is different. The cancer experts at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) have extensive experience in staging and diagnosing the disease, and developing a treatment plan tailored to each patient's specific type of oral cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma: More than 90 percent of cancers that occur in the oral cavity are squamous cell carcinomas. Normally, the throat and mouth are lined with so-called squamous cells, which are flat and look like fish scales on a microscopic level. Squamous cell carcinoma develops when some squamous cells mutate and become abnormal.

Verrucous carcinoma: About 5 percent of all oral cavity tumors are verrucous carcinoma, a type of very slow-growing cancer made up of squamous cells. This type of oral cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but it may invade nearby tissue.

Minor salivary gland carcinomas: This disease includes several types of oral cancer that may develop on the minor salivary glands, which are located throughout the lining of the mouth and throat. These include adenoid cystic carcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma and polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma.

Lymphoma: Oral cancers that develop in lymph tissue, which is part of the immune system, are known as lymphomas. The tonsils and base of the tongue both contain lymphoid tissue.

Benign oral cavity tumors: Several types of non-cancerous tumors and tumor-like conditions may develop in the oral cavity and oropharynx. Sometimes, these conditions may develop into cancer. For this reason, benign tumors are often surgically removed. The types of benign lesions include:

  • Eosinophilic granuloma
  • Fibroma
  • Granular cell tumor
  • Karatoacanthoma
  • Leiomyoma
  • Osteochondroma
  • Lipoma
  • Schwannoma
  • Neurofibroma
  • Papilloma
  • Condyloma acuminatum
  • Verruciform xanthoma
  • Pyogenic granuloma
  • Rhabdomyoma
  • Odontogenic tumors (lesions that begin in tooth-forming tissues)

Leukoplakia and erythroplakia: These non-cancerous conditions develop when certain types of abnormal cells form in the mouth or throat. When leukoplakia develops, a white area is visible, while erythroplakia is marked by a red area, which may be flat or slightly raised and often bleeds when scraped. Both conditions may be precancerous, meaning they may develop into various types of cancer. When these conditions occur, a biopsy or other test is performed to determine whether the cells are cancerous. About 25 percent of leukoplakias are either cancerous when first discovered or become precancerous. Erythroplakia is usually more serious, with about 70 about of cases deemed to be cancerous, either at the time of diagnosis or later.

Lip cancer

Lip cancer, the most common form of oral cancer, affects mostly men. Lip cancer is divided into two types: squamous cell and basal cell. The most common type of lip cancer forms in the squamous cells, which are the thin, flat cells that line the lips and mouth.

Common lip cancer symptoms

Lip cancer symptoms are similar to those of other types of oral cancer. These symptoms are often mistaken for a cold that won't go away or a persistent toothache. Other symptoms include:

  • A sore on the lip that doesn't heal
  • Persistent lip pain or lip numbness
  • A lump or thickening on the lip
  • A white or red patch on the lip
  • A neck mass

Treatments for lip cancer

Our goal is to treat lip cancer in ways that cause as little damage to healthy tissue as possible and lead to few side effects. We develop individual treatment plans based on the size, location and stage of each patient's lip cancer.

Surgery is often the first treatment option for lip cancer that has been detected at an early stage. Surgery also may be included in a treatment program for advanced-stage cancer. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy, or a combination of these, also may be options for patients with lip cancer.

Mouth cancer

Mouth cancer is a type of oral cancer that develops in any part of the mouth, including the lips, gums and tongue.

Common mouth cancer symptoms

Symptoms of mouth cancer are similar to those associated with other forms of oral cancer. These symptoms are often mistaken for a cold that won't go away or a persistent sore in the mouth. Other mouth cancer symptoms 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
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue

Treatments for mouth cancer

Common treatments for mouth cancer include:

SurgeryTumor resection involves an operation to remove the entire tumor from the mouth. Depending on the location of the tumor, a small incision may be made in the neck or jawbone for easier removal. When a tumor is surgically removed, it may be necessary to reconstruct part of the mouth. In these cases, our surgeons may perform pedicle or free flap reconstruction.

Radiation therapyToday's radiation therapy technology treats cancerous tissues of the mouth with more accuracy using equipment designed to spare healthy tissue and shorten procedure times. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and brachytherapy are the two most common radiation therapies used to treat mouth cancer.

ChemotherapyOften combined with radiation therapy, chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Various chemotherapy drugs may be combined to attack cancer cells at varying stages of their growth cycles and decrease the chance of drug resistance.

Targeted drug therapyTargeted drug therapy works by interfering with cancer cell growth on a molecular level. It may be combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy as part of a personalized treatment plan for mouth cancer.

ImmunotherapyThese drugs work by helping the body's immune system identify and kill cancer cells.