Types of Oral Cavity Cancer

Header Image

Oral cavity cancer is a very common type of cancer, making up nearly 3 percent of new cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute. Up to 45,000 Americans will need to treat it in 2015, and there are several types of oral cancer to be aware of.

1. Tongue Cancer

The tongue is a common spot where oral cancer develops, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, so be sure to pay attention to this area. Changes in the appearance of your tongue, like bumps or swollen areas, are often signs of an issue. Thick, white patches, as well as red spots or sores on the surface of your tongue can also indicate leukoplakia – a condition that sometimes progresses to cancer – and should be evaluated by your dentist. Luckily, precancerous or cancerous patches of tissue can be surgically removed before they spread further.

2. Gum Cancer

Cancer can also develop on your gum tissue, so stay alert for changes that include bumps or thick, swollen areas along the gumline. If a suspicious tissue is found when your dentist examines your gums, a biopsy will be performed to verify it. A biopsy that shows the presence of cancer may then allow you to undergo further treatment that includes surgery or chemotherapy. On the other hand, if no cancer is found, your dentist may diagnose you with a certain stage of gum disease that warrants using Colgate Total® Mouthwash for Gum Health.

3. Throat Cancer

Cancer can develop in the soft tissues of your throat such as your voice box or vocal cords. People with throat cancer may notice changes such as lumps or swellings in the back of their mouth, but the signs can also be more vague, such as a sore throat, hoarseness or difficulty swallowing. According to NIH, if these signs don't get better within a week or two, you need to see your dentist. Throat cancer is diagnosed with tests such as biopsies, x-rays or CT scans. If cancer is found, it can be removed with surgery or treated with radiation therapy.

4. Jaw Cancer

Malignant tumors are associated with many forms of cancer, and as a result, can form inside or on your jawbone. The University of California finds they sometimes produce symptoms such as lumps or thickening of the gum tissue, so it's important to distinguish between jaw cancer and periodontal disease. This cancer can also make it hard for you to chew and swallow due to jaw pain, stiffness, a sore throat or even moderate hoarseness – all of which are possible symptoms. Like gum cancer, you may need to undergo tests such as CT scans, biopsies or MRI scans of your head to allow your dentist to see the infection. If a cancerous tumor is found, it can be surgically removed, and you may also need chemotherapy or radiation therapy during this process.

5. Lip Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, two types of skin cancers, can actually occur on your lips – which technically belong to your oral cavity. The lips are exposed to a lot of sunlight during the day and are often not protected by sunscreen as much as the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends. Signs of lip cancer include sores on your lips that don't heal, swelling of the lips or general lip pain. If your dentist diagnoses you with lip cancer, you may need Mohs surgery, an effective skin cancer treatment for removing basal and squamous cell carcinomas with the use of a microscope and it has a high cure rate.

It's important to monitor your mouth for changes and to see your dentist regularly for oral cancer screenings. This way, if any signs of oral cavity cancer are found, you can start treatment right away.

Learn more about the signs of mouth cancer in the Colgate Oral Care resources.