Mouth Cancer

Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.

  • What is Mouth Cancer?

    Cancers of the oral cavity include cancers of the:

    • Lips
    • Front two-thirds of the tongue
    • Gums
    • Lining of the cheeks and lips
    • Floor of the mouth underneath the tongue
    • Hard palate (the bony roof of the mouth).

    They may arise from a lesion in any of the oral tissues, by metastasis from another location in the body, or it may have spread from cancerous tissue in surrounding areas, such as the nasal cavity.

    The majority of Mouth Cancers are Squamous Cell Carcinomas, which develop out of the flat, skin-like cells that line the inside of the mouth. Rarer types of mouth cancer start in the salivary gland cells.

    Lymphomas and Melanomas might also be diagnosed around the mouth area, however these may be approached differently in terms of treatment.

  • Mouth Cancer Symptoms

    It’s important to note that a number of conditions may cause these symptoms, not just mouth cancer.

    • Lesions on the gums, the tongue, or lining of the mouth that do not heal in 14 days. These may be pale/white-ish in colour, or dark red
    • A swelling of the jaw
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.
  • Mouth Cancer Treatment

    If caught early, Mouth Cancer can be very effectively treated.

    Diagnosing Mouth Cancer

    Mouth cancer will usually be found through a visible and/or tangible lesion within the oral cavity. The sides of the tongue are the most common sites for squamous cell carcinoma in the mouth. However, to confirm whether the lesion is cancerous or not, a tissue biopsy and microscopic evaluation of the cells in the sample will be required.

    Mouth Cancer Treatment

    If the cells are cancerous, surgery to remove the tumour is usually recommended (depending on the size and severity of the cancer). Some types of surgery include:

    • Mandibulectomy: the lower jaw or part of it is removed.
    • Glossectomy: total or partial removal of the tongue.

    A feeding tube is often necessary, and sometime permanent, in order to maintain adequate nutrition.

    Radiation, with or without chemotherapy, is used to support the surgery and target any remaining tumour cells. Chemotherapy is rarely used in conjunction with surgery – it will be used as a palliative treatment option if the cancer has spread extensively.

    After treatment, rehabilitation will be a major part of the mouth cancer patient’s recovery. Due to the important nature of the facial structures which may be damaged throughout treatment, reconstructive, plastic surgery may be required. Oral prostheses are also an option for patients. Support will also be provided to improve jaw movement, eating functions such as chewing and swallowing, and speech.

  • Mouth Cancer Risk

    A large proportion of mouth cancers are linked to changeable behaviours, such as:

    • Excessive alcohol consumption
    • Tobacco use
    • Poor oral hygiene
    • Any constant irritants such as ill-fitting dentures.

    This research suggests that many oral cancers are preventable. Mouth cancers can also be triggered by chronic infections, and the Human Papillomavirus.

Mouth cancer statistics

  • 692

    new cases are estimated to be diagnosed in 2022

  • 63.3%

    is the five-year survival rate for mouth cancer

  • 67.4

    years is the median age at diagnosis

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Cancer in Australia 2017, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

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