Lip Cancer: Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

When protecting your skin from the sun, do you remember your lips? Lip cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, "are a not uncommon, but often overlooked site for nonmelanoma skin cancers." [1]

Risk Factors

Fortunately, because the lips are in a very visible location, skin cancer of the lips is often noticed and treated early. When this happens, cure rates are near 100 percent. [2]
Lip cancer occurs most often on the lower lip and is seen overwhelming in fair-skinned males over the age of 50. This may be because these men are in occupations with a lot of sun exposure, such as construction or farming. Smoking is also thought to contribute to lip cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • Viral infection or reduced immunity.

  • Liver transplant

  • AIDS

  • Being infected with herpes simplex viruses or papilloma viruses


Lip cancer can first appear as a sore, spot or lump on the lip. It may also look like a swollen or thickened lip. Because it is considered oral cancer, there may also be spots or sores inside your mouth. You may feel rough spots, have unexplained numbness or have sores that bleed but do not heal.


When diagnosed early, the prognosis for lip cancer is very good. Stage one, where the cancer is less than 1 inch in diameter and has not spread to other areas of the body, is treated by removing the cancer. Sometimes radiation treatment is also used to make sure all cancer has been removed. In later stages, your doctor needs to determine if the cancer has spread and whether it has entered the lymph nodes.

Treatment for cancer of the lip is much the same as for skin cancer. However, new research has shown that heat can kill some cancer cells and that type of treatment, called hyperthermia, is sometimes used.

Most people recover from lip cancer. Only about 4 in 2.5 million people in the United States dies from lip cancer. [3]


Many people forget about their lips when applying sunscreen and many lipglosses, used to moisturize the lips, do not contain sunscreen. Look for a lip gloss that has an SPF of at least 30. If not, use a lipstick with sunscreen under your lipgloss.


[1] [2] "Lip Cancer: Not Uncommon, Often Overlooked," Date Unknown, William Stebbins M.D. and C. William Hanke, M.D, MPH, Skin Cancer Foundation

[3] "Lip Cancers," 2002, Diane Calabrese, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.