Lip and Oral Cancer

Lip and oral cancer involves cancers of the mouth, including:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Gums
  • Inside cheek
  • Roof and floor of mouth
  • Sinuses
  • Throat

Lip and oral cancer typically appears as a growth or sore that doesn't go away. It can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.  Men face twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women, and men over 50 face the greatest risk.

Risk factors:  

  • Tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive sun exposure to lips
  • A sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)

Smokers and excessive drinkers are six times more likely than non-smokers and non-drinkers to develop oral cancers. 

Treatment

Treatment options for lip and oral cancer include: 

  • Surgery to remove cancerous growth is generally the most recommended treatment.
  • Radiation therapy to destroy cancerous cells can be done in cases where surgery is not appropriate, such as when the cancer is too extensive or the patient is too sick for surgery under general anesthesia. If radiation is not successful, surgery may be the only remaining option.
  • Chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells may also be done with surgery or radiation therapy.

After surgery, patients may require reconstructive surgery to restore appearance and function of head and neck region. Reconstruction can often be done at the same time as the surgery to remove cancer.

Care Team

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.
Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Melissa Boltz, DO Melissa Boltz, DO Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Karen Choi, MD Karen Choi, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
David Goldenberg, MD David Goldenberg, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Jessyka Lighthall, MD Jessyka Lighthall, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematology/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Brian Saunders, MD Brian Saunders, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Guy Slonimsky Guy Slonimsky Surgeon
Leila Tchelebi, MD Leila Tchelebi, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile

Locations

Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

121 N Nyes Rd
Suite C
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Phone: 717-657-4045
Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

3025 Market St
Entrance A
Camp Hill, PA 17011

Phone: 717-761-8900
Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

200 Campus Dr
Suite 400 | Entrance 2
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6822

Clinical Trials

Groups, Classes and Support

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Prevention and Screening

You can take an active role in preventing oral cancer or detecting it early.

Prevention

To prevent oral cancer:

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Limit sun exposure, and use sunscreen on your lips as well as face.

Screening

Every month, examine your lips, gums and cheeks carefully. Call your dentist if you notice:

  • Changes in appearance such as red or white patches or lesions in the mouth 
  •  Lumps or enlarged lymph nodes in the sides of your neck or under your lower jaw. Visit your dentist regularly since dangerous spots or sores in the mouth can be very tiny and difficult to see on your own.

The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening every three years for people over 20 and every year for those over 40.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Lip and oral cancer typically appears as a growth or sore that doesn't go away.

Symptoms

Common signs of oral cancer include:

  • Swelling, thickening, lumps or bumps on lips, gums or other areas inside mouth
  • White, red or speckled white and red patches in mouth
  • A mouth sore that bleeds and doesn't heal within two weeks
  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing 
  • Hoarseness or chronic sore throat
  • Loose teeth
  • Dramatic weight loss

Diagnosis

Your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening as a routine part of a dental exam. This includes:

  • Feeling for lumps or tissue changes in your neck, head, face and mouth
  • Looking for sores or discolored patches in the mouth

If tissue in your mouth looks suspicious, your dentist will perform a biopsy by taking a small sample of tissue. This will be examined under a microscope for abnormal cells. 

If lip or oral cancer is confirmed, your dentist or a surgeon will do further tests to determine the stage of cancer. Tests include:
 

  • Endoscopy. A small flexible camera is used to examine your nose, mouth, throat and vocal cords
  • Imaging tests. Computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can determine if cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans can determine if cancer has spread to distant organs such as the lung.

A lower stage - such as stage 1 - indicates a smaller cancer confined to one area. The highest stage - 4C - indicates a severe cancer, such as a large tumor or cancer has spread to the head, neck or other areas of the body. A cancer’s stage is used to determine treatment options.

Outlook & Prognosis

In general:

  • Patients with early-stage lip cancer (stages 1 and 2) have long-term survival rates of up to 80 percent.
  • Oral cancer long-term survival rates are up to 70 percent.
  • Advanced stage cancer patients have the worst survival rates.
  • When the cancer has spread to other body organs, such as the lungs, cancer is not usually curable.

Lip and Oral Cancer

Lip and oral cancer involves cancers of the mouth, including:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Gums
  • Inside cheek
  • Roof and floor of mouth
  • Sinuses
  • Throat

Lip and oral cancer typically appears as a growth or sore that doesn't go away. It can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.  Men face twice the risk of developing oral cancer as women, and men over 50 face the greatest risk.

Risk factors:  

  • Tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive sun exposure to lips
  • A sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)

Smokers and excessive drinkers are six times more likely than non-smokers and non-drinkers to develop oral cancers. 

Treatment options for lip and oral cancer include: 

  • Surgery to remove cancerous growth is generally the most recommended treatment.
  • Radiation therapy to destroy cancerous cells can be done in cases where surgery is not appropriate, such as when the cancer is too extensive or the patient is too sick for surgery under general anesthesia. If radiation is not successful, surgery may be the only remaining option.
  • Chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells may also be done with surgery or radiation therapy.

After surgery, patients may require reconstructive surgery to restore appearance and function of head and neck region. Reconstruction can often be done at the same time as the surgery to remove cancer.

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.
Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Salah Almokadem, DO, MBChB Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Melissa Boltz, DO Melissa Boltz, DO Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Karen Choi, MD Karen Choi, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
David Goldenberg, MD David Goldenberg, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Neerav Goyal, MD, MPH Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Jessyka Lighthall, MD Jessyka Lighthall, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematology/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Brian Saunders, MD Brian Saunders, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Guy Slonimsky Guy Slonimsky Surgeon
Leila Tchelebi, MD Leila Tchelebi, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group - Nyes Road Specialties

121 N Nyes Rd
Suite C
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Phone: 717-657-4045
Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

Penn State Health Medical Group Camp Hill - Specialties

3025 Market St
Entrance A
Camp Hill, PA 17011

Phone: 717-761-8900
Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

Penn State Health Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery/Pediatric Surgery

200 Campus Dr
Suite 400 | Entrance 2
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6822
Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

You can take an active role in preventing oral cancer or detecting it early.

Prevention

To prevent oral cancer:

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Limit sun exposure, and use sunscreen on your lips as well as face.

Screening

Every month, examine your lips, gums and cheeks carefully. Call your dentist if you notice:

  • Changes in appearance such as red or white patches or lesions in the mouth 
  •  Lumps or enlarged lymph nodes in the sides of your neck or under your lower jaw. Visit your dentist regularly since dangerous spots or sores in the mouth can be very tiny and difficult to see on your own.

The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening every three years for people over 20 and every year for those over 40.

Lip and oral cancer typically appears as a growth or sore that doesn't go away.

Symptoms

Common signs of oral cancer include:

  • Swelling, thickening, lumps or bumps on lips, gums or other areas inside mouth
  • White, red or speckled white and red patches in mouth
  • A mouth sore that bleeds and doesn't heal within two weeks
  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing 
  • Hoarseness or chronic sore throat
  • Loose teeth
  • Dramatic weight loss

Diagnosis

Your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening as a routine part of a dental exam. This includes:

  • Feeling for lumps or tissue changes in your neck, head, face and mouth
  • Looking for sores or discolored patches in the mouth

If tissue in your mouth looks suspicious, your dentist will perform a biopsy by taking a small sample of tissue. This will be examined under a microscope for abnormal cells. 

If lip or oral cancer is confirmed, your dentist or a surgeon will do further tests to determine the stage of cancer. Tests include:
 

  • Endoscopy. A small flexible camera is used to examine your nose, mouth, throat and vocal cords
  • Imaging tests. Computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can determine if cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans can determine if cancer has spread to distant organs such as the lung.

A lower stage - such as stage 1 - indicates a smaller cancer confined to one area. The highest stage - 4C - indicates a severe cancer, such as a large tumor or cancer has spread to the head, neck or other areas of the body. A cancer’s stage is used to determine treatment options.

Outlook & Prognosis

In general:

  • Patients with early-stage lip cancer (stages 1 and 2) have long-term survival rates of up to 80 percent.
  • Oral cancer long-term survival rates are up to 70 percent.
  • Advanced stage cancer patients have the worst survival rates.
  • When the cancer has spread to other body organs, such as the lungs, cancer is not usually curable.