Oral Cancer

Topic Overview

Oral cancer may develop in any part of the mouth. Risk factors for oral cancer include smoking or spit (chewing) tobacco and excessive use of alcohol.

It is important to check regularly for symptoms of oral cancer. See the When to Call a Doctor section of this topic for a list of symptoms.

For additional information on oral cancer, see the following topics:


The following guidelines can help you prevent oral cancer:

  • Don't use tobacco in any form.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Get dental checkups twice a year so that signs of oral cancer can be detected early.

When to Call a Doctor

Call your doctor if you have one or more of the following symptoms longer than 2 weeks without explanation:

  • A sore in your mouth that bleeds easily and does not heal
  • A lump or thickening in your cheek that you can feel with your tongue
  • A white or red patch on your gums, your tongue, or the lining of your mouth
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Unexplained difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth
  • Swelling in your jaw that makes your dentures fit poorly or causes discomfort

Other Places To Get Help


American Cancer Society (ACS)
Phone: 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345)
TDD: 1-866-228-4327 toll-free
Web Address: www.cancer.org

The American Cancer Society (ACS) conducts educational programs and offers many services to people with cancer and to their families. Staff at the toll-free numbers have information about services and activities in local areas and can provide referrals to local ACS divisions.

American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL  60611-2678
Phone: (312) 440-2500
Web Address: www.ada.org

The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional membership organization of practicing dentists, provides information about oral health care for children and adults. The ADA can also help you find a dentist in your area.


Other Works Consulted

  • Kademani D (2007). Oral cancer. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 82(7): 878–887. [Erratum in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 82(8): 1017.]
  • Mendenhall WM, et al. (2008). Oral cavity section of Treatment of head and neck cancers. In VT DeVita et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 8th ed., vol. 1, pp. 829–877. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.


Author Bets Davis, MFA
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
Last Updated March 5, 2009

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