Lip and oral cavity cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lips or mouth.The oral cavity includes the following:
- The gingiva (gums).
- The floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue.
- The hard palate (the roof of the mouth).
Most lip and oral cavity cancers start in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells that line the lips and oral cavity. These are called squamous cell carcinomas. Cancer cells may spread into deeper tissue as the cancer grows. Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops in areas of leukoplakia (white patches of cells that do not rub off). Lip and oral cavity cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.
Tobacco and alcohol use can affect the risk of lip and oral cavity cancer.Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for lip and oral cavity cancer include the following:
- Using tobacco products.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time.
- Being male.
- Being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV).
Signs of lip and oral cavity cancer include a sore or lump on the lips or in the mouth.These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by lip and oral cavity cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- A lump or thickening on the lips or gums or in the mouth.
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or lining of the mouth.
- Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the lip or mouth.
- Change in voice.
- Loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit well.
- Trouble chewing or swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw.
- Swelling of jaw.
- Sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat.
Tests that examine the mouth and throat are used to detect (find), diagnose, and stage lip and oral cavity cancer.The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Endoscopy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope is inserted through an incision (cut) in the skin or opening in the body, such as the mouth. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
- Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist. If leukoplakia is found, cells taken from the patches are also checked under the microscope for signs of cancer.
- Exfoliative cytology: A procedure to collect cells from the lip or oral cavity. A piece of cotton, a brush, or a small wooden stick is used to gently scrape cells from the lips, tongue, mouth, or throat. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal.
- Barium swallow: A series of x-rays of the esophagus and stomach. The patient drinks a liquid that contains barium (a silver-white metallic compound). The liquid coats the esophagus and x-rays are taken. This procedure is also called an upper GI series.
- PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radionuclide glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
- Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.Prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:
- The stage of the cancer.
- Where the tumor is in the lip or oral cavity.
- Whether the cancer has spread to blood vessels.
- The stage of the cancer.
- The size of the tumor and where it is in the lip or oral cavity.
- Whether the patient's appearance and ability to talk and eat can stay the same.
- The patient's age and general health.