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Mouth and Throat Cancer


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
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What is mouth and throat cancer?

Mouth and throat cancer is cancer that starts in or around your mouth or throat. It could affect your lips, tongue, tonsils, the roof of your mouth, inside your cheeks, or the back of the throat. (Cancer in your voice box or larynx is laryngeal cancer Laryngeal Cancer Your larynx is often called your voice box because it holds the vocal cords that help you make sounds. The larynx makes the bump you can see and feel in the middle of your neck. Some people... read more .)

  • Mouth and throat cancers may look like open sores, lumps, or oddly colored areas in your mouth or throat

  • Doctors can tell you have mouth or throat cancer with a biopsy (removing part of the tissue to look at under a microscope)

  • Doctors usually treat mouth and throat cancer with surgery and radiation

What causes mouth and throat cancer?

Doctors don't know the exact cause of mouth and throat cancer. But people have a higher chance of having mouth or throat cancer if they:

People who use both tobacco and alcohol heavily have an even higher chance of getting mouth or throat cancer than people who use either separately.

Cancer on the lips is usually caused by exposure to sunlight.

What are the symptoms of mouth and throat cancer?

Your symptoms depend on exactly where in your mouth or throat the cancer is.

If you have mouth cancer, you may have no symptoms for a long time except for:

  • A painless red or white patch in your mouth that can be either flat or slightly raised

As the cancer gets bigger, you may have:

  • Pain

  • Trouble speaking

  • Trouble swallowing

  • A lump in your neck

If you have throat cancer, you may have:

  • Pain in your ear or throat, especially when you swallow

  • Trouble swallowing and speaking

  • A lump in your neck

Sometimes when you have mouth or throat cancer you’ll lose weight because it hurts to eat.

How can doctors tell if I have mouth or throat cancer?

How do doctors treat mouth and throat cancer?

Doctors usually treat mouth and throat cancers with surgery and radiation. Which treatment to use depends on the size of your cancer and where it is.

Doctors may use:

If caught early, the cancer can be removed with surgery alone.

Any dental problems should be treated before you start cancer treatment. Cancer treatment may make dental problems worse.

Sometimes surgery changes the shape or look of your face. Doctors will use the latest methods to keep the way you look as unchanged as possible.

Radiation to your mouth may cause:

  • Loss of taste

  • Dry mouth

  • Trouble swallowing and speaking

  • Dental problems, if your teeth were exposed to radiation

How can I prevent mouth or throat cancer?

To lower the chance of getting mouth or throat cancer:

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