What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, the floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat), can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.

What puts me at risk for oral cancer?

About 80% of people with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers use tobacco in the form of cigarettes, chewing tobacco or snuff. The risk of developing oral cancer depends on the duration and frequency of tobacco use. Smoking can lead to cancer in the mouth or throat, and oral tobacco products are associated with cancer in the cheeks, gums, and inner surface of the lips.


About 70% of people diagnosed with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. This risk is higher for people who use both alcohol and tobacco. For people who smoke and drink heavily, the risk of oral cancer may be significantly more than the risk for people who do not smoke or drink.


Many people in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and others parts of the world chew betel quid, a leaf from the betel plant wrapped around areca nut and lime. Chewing gutka, a combination of betel quid and tobacco is also common. Both of these substances are associated with an increased oral cancer risk.

Betel quid


4 Tips for Preventing Oral Cancer

  • Don’t use tobacco in any form. If you use tobacco, quit.

  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman or two drinks per day if you’re a man

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

  • See your dentist regularly

What are the signs of oral cancer?

As with many other types of cancer, the signs and symptoms of oral cancer vary from person to person. Some of the most common signs include mouth sores or pain that doesn’t go away.

Oral cancer may also appear as white or red patches on the gums, tonsils, or the lining of the mouth. This is what cancer in the mouth looks like.

Other symptoms include:

  • swelling in your neck

  • a lump in your cheek

  • difficulty swallowing or chewing

  • feeling like something is caught in your throat

  • trouble moving your jaw or tongue

  • weight loss

  • constant bad breath

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