Oral cancer

  • Definition

    Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth.

    Alternative Names

    Cancer - mouth; Mouth cancer; Head and neck cancer; Squamous cell cancer - mouth

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Oral cancer most commonly involves the lips or the tongue. It may also occur on the:

    • Cheek lining
    • Floor of the mouth
    • Gums (gingiva)
    • Roof of the mouth (palate)

    Most oral cancers are a type called squamous cell carcinomas. These tend to spread quickly.

    Smoking and other tobacco use are linked to most cases of oral cancer. Heavy alcohol use also increases your risk for oral cancer.

    Other factors that may increase the risk for oral cancer include:

    • Chronic irritation (such as from rough teeth, dentures, or fillings)
    • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
    • Taking medications that weaken the immune system (immunosuppressants)
    • Poor dental and oral hygiene

    Some oral cancers begin as a white plaque (leukoplakia) or as a mouth ulcer.

    Men get oral cancer twice as often as women do, particularly men older than 40.