About Oral Cancers

Last modified on June 24th, 2018

About Oral Cancers

In the UK, around 4000 new cases of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed each year.

Mouth cancer is more common in men than women; 1 in 75 men and 1 in 150 women will be diagnosed with mouth cancer at some point in their lives.

Oral cancer is most often found in the tongue, the lips and the floor of the mouth. It also can begin in the gums, the minor salivary glands, the lining of the lips and cheeks, the roof of the mouth or the area behind the wisdom teeth.

Types of Oral Cancer

Almost all cancers of the mouth occur in squamous cells, the type of cells that line the mouth, tongue and lips. These are called squamous cell carcinomas (cancers). Not all tumors in the mouth are cancer. Some are benign (not cancer), and some are precancerous, meaning they may become cancer.

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

Increasingly the patients we see do not have any risk factors. Having said that, these are the main risk factors:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Gender – about two thirds of people with oral cancer are men.
  • Race – the risk of oral cancer is higher for African-Americans.
  • Age – These cancers are found most often in people over 45.
  • Prolonged sun exposure (lip cancer)
  • Long-term irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures
  • Immuno-suppressive drugs
  • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV oral cancer)
  • Previous head and neck cancer
  • Radiation exposure
  • Lichen planus, a disease that affects the cells that line the mouth
  • Chewing quids of betel, a stimulant common in Asia