Oral cancer: causes, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

There is a large increase in people with head and neck cancer. This is a collective name for various types of cancer, including oral cancer. If the location of the tumor in the head and neck region is examined, an increase is seen in the number of new patients per year with an oral cavity tumor and pharyngeal tumor. It is important that people know what the complaints/symptoms are in the initial phase. If head and neck cancer is discovered too late, the person often cannot be cured.

Article content

  • Mouth
  • Oral cancer
  • Causes of oral cancer
  • Symptoms of oral cancer
  • Complications of oral cancer
  • Diagnosis of oral cancer
  • Oral cancer treatment
  • Oral cancer prognosis


The mouth can be described as the entrance to the digestive tract, bordered by the lips. We cannot do without our mouths when speaking. The oral cavity is formed by the cheeks, lower and upper jaw. It contains the gums, palate, tongue and teeth. The oral cavity is covered on the inside with mucous membrane. The saliva produced by three pairs of salivary glands ensures that the mucous membrane remains moist.

Oral cancer

Oral cancer is a malignant growth of the lips, tongue or oral mucosa . It is most common in people over sixty years of age. Oral cancer hardly occurs in people under the age of forty. It is twice as common in men as in women. However, the number of women with oral cancer is increasing. If you look at the location of the cancer in the mouth, about half of the tumors arise on the tongue or lower lip. Less often you see a malignant tumor in the gums, on the inside of the cheeks, the palate and the floor of the mouth. Oral cancer is much more common in developing countries than in developed countries. In developing countries where tobacco and leaves and nuts of the betel (an originally Malaysian climbing plant from the pepper family) are frequently chewed, oral cancer occurs much more frequently.

Causes of oral cancer

In fifty percent of cases, oral cancer arises from oral leukoplakia . Characteristic of leukoplakia are white spots that appear in the mucous membrane in the mouth or on the tongue. Smoking plays a major role in the development of leukoplakia and tumors in the mouth. If a diet contains few vitamins (A, C, E) and iron, this may also play a role. Excessive exposure to sunlight is also a risk factor. This may be the case with people who spend a lot of time outdoors due to their profession. Other risk factors: chewing tobacco and excessive drinking .

Symptoms of oral cancer

You may have the following complaints with oral cancer:

  • An ulcer in the mucous membrane of the mouth or tongue, this ulcer grows slowly and does not go away;
  • A thickening or lump somewhere in the mouth or on the lips;
  • Decreased sensation or lack of sensation in one part of the mouth;
  • The voice can change;
  • When wearing dentures, they may fit less well due to swelling of the jaw.

Complications of oral cancer

If oral cancer is not treated, the oral cancer can spread to surrounding tissue and to lymph nodes located in the neck. It can then spread to other places in the body.

Diagnosis of oral cancer

Oral cancer is often discovered at an early stage during a check-up at the dentist. If it is the GP who thinks it is a tumor, a referral will follow to a specialist. A biopsy will be done for microscopic examination. If it is cancer, tests will follow to see to what extent the cancer has spread.

Oral cancer treatment

If it is a small tumor that is discovered at an early stage, it can be removed with surgery or laser treatment. In many people this is successful (and the cancer does not return after removal). With a large tumor, only surgical intervention is possible and sometimes plastic surgery is necessary afterwards. Radiation therapy may be needed after surgery to ensure that all cancer cells are destroyed.

Oral cancer prognosis

If tumors in the mouth are discovered at an early stage and they are located in an easily accessible part of the mouth, treatment is often successful. The prognosis for lip cancer is most favorable, while other forms of oral cancer are less favorable.

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