Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

What is Oral Cancer?

A man's mouth

Oral cancer is cancer that starts in the mouth, or oral cavity. Oral cancers are relatively common and are highly curable if found and treated at an early stage. A doctor or dentist usually finds oral cancers in their early stages because the mouth can be easily examined. Ninety percent of all people who get oral cancer are smokers or use tobacco.

Anatomy of the Oral Cavity

The oral cavity, or the mouth, includes many parts, including:

The back of the tongue (also called the base of the tongue), the back of the roof of the mouth (or soft palate), and the tonsils are not considered part of the oral cavity. Instead, they are considered part of the region called the oropharynx, or throat.

Types of Oral Cancer

More than 90 percent of all oral cavity tumors are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells make up the lining of the oral cavity, also called the mucosa.

Other less common types of oral cancer include tumors of the salivary glands, including adenoid cystic carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and other salivary glands cancers.

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