Oral cancer is one of the cancers that occurs in the head and neck area. Oral cancer starts in the mouth or oral cavity. Oral cancer is common. If a doctor finds and treats it early, it is very curable. A doctor or dentist can usually spot oral cancer with a routine mouth exam. Of all people who get oral cancer, the majority smoke or use tobacco. Drinking alcohol is also a risk factor for oral cancer.
How does smoking affect oral cancer?
Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor in getting oral cancer. People who smoke or chew tobacco, dip snuff, or smoke pipes have a much higher chance of getting oral cancer than people who do not use tobacco. The more tobacco is used and the longer it’s used, the higher the risk.
Oral cancer most commonly involves:
- the front 2/3 of the tongue
- the lining of the cheeks and lips (the buccal mucosa)
- the floor of mouth under the tongue
- the roof of the mouth (hard palate)
- the gums (gingiva)
- the small area behind the wisdom teeth (the retromolar trigone)
- the minor salivary glands
Stages of Oral Cancer
Stage I. The cancer is no more than 2 centimeters and has not spread to lymph nodes in the area
Stage II. The cancer is more than 2 centimeters but less than 4 centimeters and has not spread to lymph nodes in the area
Stage III. Either of the following may be true – the cancer is more than 4 centimeters; the cancer is any size but has spread to only one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer.
Stage IV. Any of the following may be true – the cancer has spread to tissues around the lip or oral cavity; the lymph nodes in the area may or may not contain cancer; the cancer is any size and has spread to more than one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer, to lymph nodes on one or both sides of the neck, or to any lymph node that measures more than 6 centimeters.
Recurrent. The cancer has returned after it has been treated. It may come back in the lip and oral cavity or in another part of the body.