Mouth Cancer Information 

Mouth cancer (also referred to as oral cancer) is a broad term that refers to any of the several types of cancer that can develop in the structures within the oral cavity. These diseases are categorized based on where they originated – as exemplified by the term “tongue cancer,” which develops in the cells of the tongue – or by the type of cell in which they develop, as with the term “squamous cell carcinoma,” which develops in the flat, thin squamous cells of the body.

Mouth Cancer Causes

Currently, researchers don’t know what directly causes mouth cancer, but some factors seem to place certain individuals at greater risk for developing mouth cancer, including:

  • Tobacco usage of any type
  • Heavy alcohol use (the correlation seems to be higher when used with tobacco)
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
  • Exposure to UV rays (in the case of lip cancer)

Mouth Cancer Symptoms

Mouth cancer doesn’t always present symptoms that are noticeable to the average person, especially early in its development. As it grows it can cause pain in the tongue, sores that don’t heal, bleeding within the mouth, a consistently sore throat, or an earache, among other warning signs. A physician typically must perform a physical examination, imaging tests, biopsies, and/or blood tests to confirm the presence of the cancer.

Mouth Cancer Treatments

If a mouth cancer diagnosis occurs, Tampa General Hospital’s team of oncologists and other medical professionals works with each patient to develop a treatment plan that will be the most effective for that individual. Our surgeons can remove part or all of a tumor if it is considered eligible for surgery, while our radiation therapy staff can destroy cancer cells using targeted beams of radiation. We can also complement these approaches with chemotherapy treatments.

Most people who have mouth cancer will undergo multifaceted treatment to address their symptoms, the cancer itself, and in some cases, the side effects caused by other, more intensive treatments. An individual’s treatment plan may incorporate one or more of the following:

  • Surgery – Surgeons can remove the affected tissues to prevent further spread of the cancer. Depending on the type of mouth cancer, the surgical approach may include taking out part of the lining of the mouth, the jawbone, or other portions of the mouth (these are often replaced with prosthetics to minimize the effect on the facial structure). Sometimes, nearby lymph nodes are also removed as a precautionary measure.

  • Radiation Therapy – Radiologists can carefully direct doses of radiation into a tumor to help kill the cancerous cells. Most radiation therapy is delivered from a machine outside of the body, but brachytherapy involves the insertion of a radioactive implant or “seed” near the tumor to provide temporary internal radiation. Radiotherapy can be used in conjunction with surgery.

  • Chemotherapy – Powerful medications that kill all quickly replicating cells in the body, including cancer cells, can be infused into a patient’s bloodstream or taken by mouth. It is commonly used after surgery to help kill any cancer cells that may remain after an operation, but can also be used if a patient is not a good candidate for surgical intervention.