Oral Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

This information is useful for adults and older adults
older man, looking thoughtful

In medical circles, the mouth is referred to as the “oral cavity.” The category “oral cancers” includes those that affect the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gums, cheeks, and roof and floor of the mouth. Oral cancers are on the rise, particularly among young people, so it is important to learn about early signs and symptoms and, even better, how to prevent them. 

Here in the United States, about 34,000 people receive a diagnosis of oral cancer each year. More men than women are diagnosed with oral cancer, and its leading causes include tobacco and alcohol consumption.

Sometimes the first sign of oral cancer is a small and seemingly harmless sore, so it’s important to visit your dentist or doctor to discuss any concerns you might have about your lips and mouth. 

Treatments for oral cancers include surgery, radiation therapy and, in some cases, chemotherapy.

“Oral cancers are part of a larger group of cancers known as head and neck cancers,” says Heather Osborn, MD, a Yale Medicine surgeon who specializes in head and neck cancers. She sees patients at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven and the Park Avenue Medical Center in Trumbull.

Within the Head & Neck Cancers Program, there is a multidisciplinary team of head and neck surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, physical and speech therapists, nutritionists, advanced practice nurses and social workers, as well as patient advocates. “Our team approach means that patients newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer receive a carefully designed treatment plan and the support they need in their recovery,” Dr. Osborn says.