Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer

Lip and oral cavity cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lips or mouth.

Most lip and oral cavity cancers start in squamous cells. These are the thin, flat cells that line the lips and oral cavity. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas. They usually develop in areas of leukoplakia – white patches of cells that do not rub off.

The oral cavity includes the front two thirds of the tongue; the gums or gingiva; the lining of the inside of the cheeks called the buccal mucosa; and the bottom of the mouth under the tongue. Also included are the hard palate, or roof of the mouth, and the retromolar trigone, the small area behind the wisdom teeth.

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program estimates that 58,450 people in the United States will receive a diagnosis of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx (the throat) in 2024. Furthermore, 12,230 people will die of these cancers.

Lip and oral cavity cancers are forms of head and neck cancer. This category accounts for approximately 3.5 percent of all cancers in the United States. That’s about 71,100 of the estimated 2 million new cancer cases in 2024.

Tobacco and alcohol use can affect the risk of lip and oral cavity cancer. Exposure to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time, and being male, are other risk factors for this disease.

Oral Cavity, Pharyngeal, and Laryngeal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®) Oral Cavity, Pharyngeal, and Laryngeal Cancer Screening (PDQ®) Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®)

Source: National Cancer Institute