Cancer of the Mouth – Information, Treatment & Support

Mouth cancers are the common cancers which affect the area of the head and neck.

What is it?

Mouth cancers usually develop from cells that line the mouth or cover the tongue and are commonly found in the lips, tongue or the floor of the mouth.

What causes mouth cancers?

There are a number of factors that increase the risk of developing mouth cancer: smoking, alcohol, chewing tobacco, chewing betel or paan (cultural tradition in Asian countries), poor diet and dental hygiene and sun exposure on the lips.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of mouth cancer can include: a visible mass or lump that may or may not be painful, an ulcer or blood blisters that won’t heal, loss of sensation, trouble swallowing, difficulty moving the jaw, speech changes such as slurring, loose teeth and/or sore gums, altered taste and swollen lymph glands.
TIP: If you have any of these symptoms you should have them checked by your doctor – but remember, they are common to many illnesses.

After visiting a GP a referral may be made to a hospital for some tests. These may include:

  • PET scan
  • Endoscopy

Mouth cancer can spread without treatment. They can go deeper into the tissue layers including muscles and bones and spread to the neck or throat. Mouth cancer can get into the blood or lymphatic system and spread to other parts of the body.

A team of doctors and other staff at hospital will plan treatment. It will depend on the size of the tumour and where it is. Treatment may involve:

  • Monoclonal antibodies

Surgery for cancer of the mouth:

  • The aim of surgery is to remove the tumour along with a margin of clear tissue.
  • Many mouth cancers spread to the neck’s lymph nodes. Usually the nodes are removed (neck dissection) even without them being affected as this reduces the chance of the cancer returning.
  • The extent of surgery depends on the spread of the tumour.

For more information about surgery, go to our surgery page.

Radiotherapy for cancer of the mouth:

  • Radiotherapy may be used alone, as well as post operative treatment (adjuvant chemotherapy). It’s aims are to shrink and/or destroy small cancerous areas not be removed in surgery.
  • It can be administered from outside the body (external beam radiotherapy) or by implanting radioactive material into the tumour (internal radiotherapy or brachytherapy).

For more information about radiotherapy, go to our radiotherapy page.

Chemotherapy for cancer of the mouth:

Chemotherapy may be given at the same time as radiotherapy (chemo-radiotherapy), or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and stop them from spreading (adjuvant chemotherapy). For more information about chemotherapy, go to our chemotherapy page.

Monoclonal antibodies for cancer of the mouth:

Monoclonal antibodies are drugs that attach themselves to proteins (receptors) found in particular cancers, stopping the cancer cells from growing by locking onto these receptors. This makes the cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

There are some side effects of the treatments for cancer of the mouth that can be found in our side effects page.

Join CanTeen’s online community to chat with other young people about cancer of the mouth, its treatment… or anything really.