Head and Neck CancersOral Cancer

Let's Talk About Oral Cancer

A healthy mouth goes far beyond polishing your pearly whites. Here's what to look out for if you're worried about cancer.

    Our Pro PanelOral Cancer

    We went to some of the nation's top experts on head and neck cancer to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.Director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery

    New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center
    New York, NY
    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.

    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.Head and Neck Surgical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology

    Houston Methodist Hospital
    Houston, TX
    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.

    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.Chief of Head and Neck Surgery, Medical Director and Research Director

    Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University
    Augusta, GA

    Frequently Asked QuestionsOral Cancer

    What kind of doctor should I go to?

    The primary doctor for mouth cancers is usually an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. These pros are trained to perform many types of surgery on the delicate and complex tissues of the head and neck. Plastic surgeons, dentists, and oncologists may also play a role in your surgery and follow-up treatment.

    What is the first line treatment for oral cancer?

    Surgery is usually the first line treatment for cancers of the mouth that have been caught early. If your surgeon is able to remove all the cancer you may not need any further treatment. Radiation is the next step and often highly effective for these cancers. Drug treatments are usually reserved for more advanced, less responsive cases.

    Can oral cancer come back?

    In a word, yes. Research shows that about a third of the time, or in 32.7% of patients, the cancer returns. The earlier your cancer was found and whether it spread to any lymph nodes influence the odds of recurrence. In addition, mouth cancer patients are also at increased risk of a second primary tumor occurring down the road—in the oral cavity or elsewhere. Sometimes this occurs as a side effect of radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

    Can mouth cancer affect my teeth?

    The relationship between dental and oral health is a two-way street: Poor dental hygiene and decay can contribute to cancer development, and cancer treatments like radiation can weaken teeth. Your treatment team will likely want you to have any dental issues taken care of before beginning radiation for this reason. Don’t stress too much: Dental implants can replace original teeth that are damaged or lost due to cancer.

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood is a award-winning freelance writer and former magazine editor specializing in health, nutrition, wellness, and parenting.