Oral Cancers start in a part of the mouth : the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, floor of mouth, or roof of the mouth (the palate). As they grow, they can come to involve the bones of the upper or lower jaw, they can spread to lymph nodes in the neck, or they can spread elsewhere in the body. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which is a cancer that comes from the lining on the inside of the mouth.
Tobacco and alcohol use are the strongest risk factors for oral cancer. All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, put users at risk of cancer. Tobacco and alcohol are both risk factors by themselves, but the risks are even greater for people who use both.
In recent years, human papillomavirus (HPV) has been found to cause an increasing number of cancers of the oropharynx, which is part of the throat. Cancers in the oropharynx (part of the throat) and oral cavity (the mouth) are not the same. To the best of our knowledge, HPV causes only a very small percentage of oral cancers.
The most common symptom of oral cancer is pain, usually in the form of a non-healing sore which can appear white and/or red. A new lump in the neck that does not go away after several weeks can also be a sign of oral cancer.
Oral cancer is usually first treated with surgery. Radiation and/or chemotherapy therapy are sometimes recommended after surgery depending on the exact nature of the cancer. See the treatment section below for more details.