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Mouth Cancer: Types, causes, symptoms, prevention & treatment

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

As per the WCRF 2020 report, Mouth Cancer causes more than one lakh deaths in India per year. It is also the country's fifth most common type of cancer. Thus, you must know what causes Mouth Cancer and do your best to avoid it. The following sections provide detailed information on Oral Cancer/Mouth Cancer and its types, causes, symptoms, prevention methods, and treatment.




What is Mouth/Oral Cancer?

Mouth Cancer is a disease that develops when abnormal cells in the mouth multiply uncontrollably. Mouth Cancer can begin in various locations, including the gums, lips, or sides of the mouth. 

The oropharynx is where Oropharyngeal Cancer begins. The oropharynx is the area of the throat (pharynx) right behind the mouth. Here, tonsil cancer and cancer of the back of the tongue may also occur. Note that Oral Cancer is another name for Mouth Cancer.

Types of Mouth Cancer

The kind of cancer indicates the type of cell the disease began in. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the name of most Mouth and Oropharyngeal Cancers that begin in squamous cells. Other cancers of the mouth and oropharynx include the following.

  • Cancer of the salivary glands

  • Cystic adenoid tumours

  • Carcinoma of the basal cell

  • Lymphoma

  • Melanoma

Some aberrant regions and growths in the mouth and oropharynx may not indicate the presence of cancer. However, these may contain abnormal cells that if left untreated can develop into cancer. These areas are considered precancerous.

Signs and symptoms of Mouth Cancer

The following could be symptoms of Mouth Cancer. 

  • Discomfort in the mouth

  • Mouth sores that don't heal

  • Swallowing difficulties

  • Patches of red or white in your mouth or throat

  • A lump in your throat

  • Speech issues

  • Foul breath

  • Unexplained weight loss

Please consult a doctor and check your symptoms for cancer before getting worried in case you have these signs.

What are the causes of Mouth Cancer?

Mouth Cancer can be caused because of the following. 

  1. Smoking: Tobacco use (cigarettes, pipes, cigars) raises your chances of being affected with Mouth Cancer.

  2. Alcohol: Consuming alcohol raises your chances of developing Mouth and Oropharyngeal Cancer.

  3. Poor diet: A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables can raise your chances of developing Mouth Cancer. This could be related to a deficiency in vitamins and minerals. A well-balanced diet indicates that you are consuming enough minerals and vitamins. Thus, you can avoid Mouth Cancer by eating fruits and vegetables regularly.

  4. Blood pressure medication: Hydrochlorothiazide is a blood pressure medication (hypertension). One unintended consequence of this medicine is greater sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity). A limited study found that this medication may raise the risk of developing lip cancer.

  5. Immune system deficiency: Your body's immune system fights illnesses. However, certain disorders and drugs might impair your immune system. Thus, it may not detect abnormal cell growth that may lead to cancer. 

  6. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV): The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that infects the skin as well as the cells that line bodily cavities. It has the potential to cause Mouth Cancer.

  7. Sedentary lifestyle: According to research, those who engage in little or no physical activity may be at a higher risk of acquiring Mouth and Oropharyngeal Cancer. Several research investigations are being conducted to determine why and how an active lifestyle may lessen cancer risk.

  8. Mouth health: Cells in the mouth's lining might change and can take the form of red or white patches. Erythroplakia refers to red spots. Leukoplakia is the medical term for white spots. These diseases may progress to cancer in certain people over time.

  9. Tobacco or betel quid: Chewing tobacco, paan, or betel quid (gutkha), has been linked to Oral Cancer. Note that it's not a safe substitute for cigarettes.

  10. Family history: According to research, there is a slight increase in the chance of Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer if you have a close relative that has this disease. For instance, a parent or sibling suffering from Oral Cancer. 

  11. Recurrence: Cancer can return in people who have a history of Mouth or Oropharyngeal Cancer.

  12. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: The leading cause of skin cancer is exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or sunbeds. While UV radiation can commonly cause Skin Cancer, it can also affect the lips and lead to Oral Cancer.

Different stages of Mouth Cancer

The following are different stages of Mouth Cancer.

Mouth Cancer Stage 0: Stage 0, also known as carcinoma in situ, is the lowest point on the scale. It refers to cancerous cells developed in the lips or oral cavity lining.

Mouth Cancer Stage I: Stage I refers to the extremely early stages of cancer. The tumour is no larger than 2 centimetres in diameter, and the disease has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Mouth Cancer Stage II: A tumour in stage II is greater than two centimetres but not larger than 4 cm. Cancer in stage II has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Mouth Cancer Stage III: In the third stage, cancer can get larger than 4 cm in diameter or can progress to the lymphatics in the neck.

Mouth Cancer Stage IV: This is the last stage of Mouth Cancer. In this stage, cancer may have spread to other parts of the body.

Tumours in stages III and IV seem more likely to return than in the early stages.

How to diagnose Mouth Cancer

If you are showing indications of Mouth Cancer, your doctor or dentist will examine you and inquire about your symptoms. Early detection can increase your chances of survival by up to 90%. This is why you should consult your dentist or doctor if your symptoms do not improve after three weeks. If cancer is clinically indicated, you will be referred to a hospital for any of the following tests.

  1. Biopsy: A tiny sample of the afflicted tissue must be removed and examined for malignant cells. This is referred to as a biopsy. Although it is uncommon for Mouth Cancer to propagate further, you could have the following scans to test the other parts of your body.

  2. a radiograph

  3. PET scanning

  4. an MRI examination

  5. an ultrasound examination

  6. a computed tomography scan

Treatments for Mouth Cancer

Your Mouth Cancer treatment will be determined by cancer type and size, cancer grade and stage, and overall health status. Your doctor may recommend surgery if the cancer is limited to the mouth and has not spread to the oropharynx. If the cancer is significant or has progressed to your throat, you may need a mix of radiotherapy, surgery, and chemotherapy.

Prevention of Mouth Cancer

Here is a list of tips that can help in avoiding Mouth Cancer.

  1. Tobacco should be avoided: The longer and more regularly you smoke tobacco, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with cancer. Chewing tobacco can develop grey-white lesions in the mouth called leukoplakia, which can proceed to cancer. Compounds in smokeless tobacco have also been related to altering a gene which helps against cancer.

  2. Regularly visit your dentist: Dentists and dental hygienists are frequently the first to identify possibly malignant growths. To keep your teeth and mouth healthy, brush and floss twice a day in addition to visiting the dentist every six months. Take special precautions with your lips if you have a history of severe sunburns. Lips, like skin, are highly susceptible to the sun.

  3. Consume alcohol in moderation: As with smoking, the longer you drink and the more you drink, the higher your risk of being affected by cancer. Because alcohol alters the body's chemistry, it weakens its defences against cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, people who consume more than three pegs of alcoholic beverages daily face the risk of Oral Cavity Cancer by two to three times as compared to someone who avoids drinking.

It may also help prevent Mouth Cancer if you get the HPV vaccine to protect your lips from strong sunlight.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about Mouth Cancer.

Is Oral Cancer curable?


If cancer has not spread further than the mouth or throat, surgery may be sufficient to treat it. If the tumour is large or has spread to other body parts, your doctor may offer a variety of treatments to combat the growth.

Which is the most common type of treatment for Mouth Cancer?


Most persons with Mouth Cancer are treated primarily with surgery. These tumours are often removed through the mouth. The type of surgery that is best for you is determined by criteria such as the tumour's extent, stage, and placement.

How fast can Mouth Cancer spread?


This disease spreads rapidly, especially among those over 50 years of age who use tobacco or alcohol. Oral Cancer progresses from stage one to stage four in around five years. As a result, it is critical to detect it early, when there is a better chance of recovery.

View Infographic: What is Oral Cancer or Mouth Cancer?


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.



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