What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer starts when cells mutate and grow out of control. Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is cancer that develops in any part of the mouth, including the lining of the lips, gums, tongue, roof or floor of the mouth, inner lining of the cheeks, or upper throat. In the mouth, it commonly starts as a painless white patch, that thickens, develops red patches, an ulcer, and continues to grow. The cancer cells can spread to the other parts of the body. It looks like a persistent crusting ulcer that does not heal when it develops on the lips. Oral Cancer is quite common in men than women and rare in children.


Oral cancer appears to be increasing in incidence with time and the mortality rate has hardly improved. In 2018, Oral Cancer occurred globally in approximately 355,000 people and resulted in 177,000 deaths. In India, 20 per 100000 population are affected by Oral Cancer. Over 5 people in India die every hour because of Oral Cancer. The reported 5-year survival of the affected patients is around 50% after treatment with surgery and radiotherapy, which is much lower than most of the developed countries. According to WHO, approximately 657,000 new cases of Oral Cancer are estimated each year, with more than 330,000 deaths. 

Risk factors

Oral cancer is dangerous because it may not be noticed by the patients in its early stages. It can constantly spread without producing any pain or other symptoms, thereby increasing the risk of producing second primary tumors. Risk increases when the prevention steps are ignored. Majorly, Tobacco and Alcohol accelerate the risk of Oral Cancer. The most-known factors leading to Oral Cancer, i.e, consumption of Tobacco and Alcohol, are not the only causes of this disease. Recently, several studies have dragged attention towards diet and its influence on the growth and development of Cancer. More specifically, lifestyle behaviors and poor diet have shown a combined control on the health of an individual.

Summarizing the causes/risks factors of Oral Cancer

  • Tobacco

  • Alcohol

  • Human Papillomavirus

  • Betel Nut

  • Stem Cell Transplantation

  • Premalignant Lesions

  • Marijuana

  • Poor oral hygiene

  • Poor diet/nutrition

Types of Oral Cancer

Oral Cancer commonly starts as a painless white patch, that thickens, develops red or white patches, an ulcer, and continues to grow. It is, mainly, of six types:- Floor of Mouth Cancer, Gum Cancer, Hard Palate Cancer, Inner Cheek Cancer, Lip Cancer, and Tongue Cancer. In Cancer of any of these areas, the cells grow out of control. However, there can be different symptoms for each type of Oral Cancer. Following are the most common symptoms of different types of Oral Cancer.

Floor of Mouth Cancer

  • Mouth pain

  • Numbness in the mouth

  • Ear pain

  • White or red patches in the mouth

  • Difficulty in swallowing

  • Swelling

  • Loose teeth

  • Pain around the teeth

Gum Cancer

  • White, red, or dark patches on or near the gums

  • Bleeding in the gums

  • Cracking gums

  • Thick areas on the gums

  • Irregular growth on the gums

Hard Palate Cancer

  • Bad breath

  • Loose teeth

  • Lump(s) on the neck

  • Difficulty in swallowing

  • Change in speech

  • Swelling on the neck

Inner Cheek Cancer

  • Hoarseness

  • Ear pain

  • Loose teeth

  • Mouth pain

  • Numbness in the mouth

  • Hard lump near the back teeth

  • Red patches

Lip Cancer

  • Bleeding lips

  • Pain on the lips

  • Lump on the mouth

  • Swelling of the jaw

  • Red or white patch on the lip

  • Bad breath

  • White plaques

  • Mouth ulcers

Tongue Cancer

  • Tongue ulcer

  • Pain when swallowing

  • Stiffness in tongue 

  • Numbness in the mouth

  • Red or white patch on the tongue


Eventually, there is large literature transversing the history of certain aspects of oncology in not one, but multiple languages and across continents. Despite this, there is an intriguing lack of references to Oral Cancers, when analyzing the medical literature before the 15th century.

Prone areas

Oral cancer ranks among the top three types of cancers in India. The economically weaker sections of the society are more prone to Oral Cancer due to the consumption of tobacco and inaccessibility to diagnosis aids, thereby resulting in a delay in reporting of Oral Cancer. The incidence of Oral Cancer is high in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.


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