Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer of the Lip and Oral Cavity

Most oral and lip cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, meaning they arise from flat, thin cells in the epidermis lining the lip and mouth. Because they are near the surface, these cells are exposed to environmental factors that can trigger cancer, in much the same way that exposure to sunlight can cause squamous cell skin cancer.

These cancers often appear as harmless looking sores or patches of discoloration. In addition to checking your own mouth for suspicious changes, your dentist should inspect your mouth for signs of oral cancer during your regular dental exams.

Maximizing Your Success

Tobacco and alcohol consumption are the primary causes of lip and oral cancers. Encouragingly, studies have shown that you will respond better to treatment if you can stop smoking or chewing tobacco during and after receiving therapy.

The Stanford Cancer Center offers free smoking cessation services to help you meet this important goal. Early diagnosis is also important because survival rates are higher when treatment is applied early.

Stanford Expertise in Oral Cancer

Lip and oral cancers are typically treated with surgery and/or radiation and sometimes experimental chemotherapy, depending on the stage and type of cancer. Like all head and neck cancers, lip and oral cancers are rare. Therefore, it is important to be seen by a team of physicians who have expertise in treating the disease in the specific part of the lip or oral cavity in which you are affected.

Physicians at the Stanford Cancer Center have experience treating patients with cancer in the lip, floor of the mouth, cheek or buccal mucosa, palate, alveolar ridge, and tongue. In addition, specialists are available to provide reconstructive surgery, speech therapy, and swallowing therapy if needed after treatment, and nutritional counseling to make sure that you stay healthy even if eating becomes temporarily difficult.

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