Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Tests For Mouth Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, refers to the growth of cancerous tissue in the oral cavity. Recognizing mouth cancer symptoms in time is crucial for the treatment of this disease.

Tests Recommended

Mouth cancer test is necessary to detect the cancer early before it spreads. Some of the main tests for oral cancer include:

  • Dental X-rays that help the doctor determine abnormalities inside the mouth that could indicate mouth cancer. Imagining tests for oral cancer help determine the extent of the detected cancer.
  • Doctors may perform a biopsy under local anesthesia to extract a tissue sample and test it for mouth cancer. Punch biopsy is another technique considered when the affected area is easily accessible.
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) is a technique used to extract fluid and cells from lumps in the mouth for microscopic analysis.
  • Panendoscopy is a procedure used to extract tissue samples when the tissues are inside the nasal cavity or at the back of the throat. The panendoscope is a thin long tube with a camera attached at the end and is inserted into the nose and down the throat.


Although the exact cause of mouth cancer is unknown, certain risk factors increase the chances of developing this kind of cancer. Some of the common mouth cancer causes are as under:

  • Smoking any form of tobacco such as cigars, cigarettes, or pipes can result in the development of mouth cancer. Chewing tobacco and snuff irritates the mucous membranes and is a leading cause of mouth cancer. Almost 75% oral cancer cases are because of smoking and chewing tobacco products.
  • Drinking excessive alcohol also increases the risk of mouth cancer. A combination of smoking and drinking increases the risk of mouth cancer even further.
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun or UV lights increases a person’s chances of developing this form of cancer. People who have outdoor jobs and are exposed to the UV rays of the sun for long periods are more likely to develop mouth cancer.
  • People with a weakened immune system such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS have a higher chance of developing mouth cancer especially if they were previously smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Studies have shown that a poor diet that lacks essential nutrients as well as excessive intake of spicy foods can increase the risk of mouth cancer.
  • People who regularly chew Betel nuts are more at risk of damaging their gums and developing oral cancer.


Some of the most common mouth cancer symptoms are as under:

  • An ulcer in the mouth is one of the earliest signs of mouth cancer, especially if the ulcer does not resolve within 14 days. People above the age of 50 years who develop such mouth ulcers must get them examined at the earliest.
  • Constant pain or soreness in the mouth generally develops later but if these symptoms accompany an oral ulcer, they could indicate a possibility of mouth cancer.
  • Red or white patches in the mouth may be other indicators of mouth cancer. These are also known as leucoplakia (white patch) and erythroplakia (red patch) and are generally painless. Such patches have a high chance of becoming malignant.
  • A lump on the lip, tongue or in the neck is very commonly associated with mouth cancer and must be checked immediately, especially in older individuals.
  • Bad breath and smelly discharge are some of the other symptoms of oral cancer.
  • In most cases symptoms like unexplained bleeding in the mouth, numbness in the mouth and loose teeth are also common signs of mouth cancer.


Mouth cancer treatment depends on the extent of the cancer and how far the cancer has spread. Some of the main oral cancer treatment methods are as under:

  • Doctors usually suggest surgery to remove cancer affected tissues and reduce the damage to the rest of the mouth. In some cases, surgery may affect the way a person eats, speaks, and looks. If the cancer has spread too much, the surgeon may even remove part of the jawbone, tongue, or larynx.
  • Radiotherapy is a procedure that uses different doses of radiation to destroy malignant cells. This technique is generally used after surgery to minimize the risk of the cancer reoccurring. The duration of radiotherapy depends on the size of the affected area and how far the cancer has spread.
  • Internal radiotherapy uses a radiation source inside the body to kill cancer cells. Radioactive tubes or wires are inserted into the tumor while the patient is under general anesthesia.
  • Chemotherapy is combined with radiotherapy when the cancer has spread too much. It uses a combination of drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Cetuximab is a drug used to treat advanced mouth cancer. Doctors usually use it in combination with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.