Symptoms and Signs of Cancer of the Mouth and Throat (Oral Cancer)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/28/2021

Doctor's Notes on Cancer of the Mouth and Throat (Oral Cancer)

Signs and symptoms of cancer in the mouth and throat are not specific and may develop gradually. People may not notice them early in the disease. The signs and symptoms of this disease are

  • painless lumps on the lips, in the mouth, or in the throat;
  • sores or ulcerations in the mouth or lips that do not heal;
  • painless white patches or red patches on any of the mouth structures; or
  • pain, bleeding, or numbness inside the mouth.

Other signs and symptoms include

Patients usually exhibit one or more of these signs or symptoms before seeking medical care.

There are multiple causes of cancer of the mouth and throat, but about 50%-90% of squamous cell cancers of the mouth and throat are due to human papillomavirus infections. Other risk factors that contribute to causing these cancers include smoking, chewing tobacco, alcohol use, chewing betel nuts (common in India), and in some patients, sun exposure to the lips. Also, advancing age and being male is associated with a higher incidence of this disease.

What Are the Treatments for Cancer of the Mouth and Throat (Oral Cancer)?

Treatments of mouth and throat cancer are numerous and depend on the location, type, stage, and your health and preferences that you and your doctors decide. The following is a summary of treatments:

  • Surgical tumor removal
  • Surgical removal with additional neck dissection
  • Reconstructive mouth surgery
  • Radiation therapy (often used after tumor surgery)
  • Chemotherapy (often combined with surgery and radiation)
  • Targeted drug therapy (drugs like cetuximab that attack specific areas in cancer cells)
  • Immunotherapy (interferes with cancer cell's ability to suppress the immune system)

You and your doctors may design your own personal treatment protocol.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.