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, though, is laryngeal cancer.)
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
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:
Use a lot of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chew, or snuff
Drink a lot of alcohol—your chance of getting this cancer is higher if you drink more than 6 ounces of hard liquor, 3 glasses of wine, or 3 beers every day
Are infected by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that causes genital warts and can spread through oral sex
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.
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:
As the cancer gets bigger, you may have:
If you have throat cancer, you may have:
Sometimes when you have mouth or throat cancer you’ll lose weight because it hurts to eat.
Doctors may use a special mirror or camera to look in your mouth or throat. They may also do a biopsy. With a biopsy, they remove a sample of your tissue for testing.
If you have mouth or throat cancer, doctors will do tests to see how big it is and if it has spread to other parts of your body. They'll do tests such as:
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:
To lower the chance of getting mouth or throat cancer:
Don’t use tobacco
Don’t drink large amounts of alcohol
Visit a dentist twice per year for check-ups to take care of your teeth—your dentist also checks for abnormalities that could be mouth cancer
Avoid too much sun exposure (to prevent lip cancer)
Get the HPV vaccine—it's usually given in childhood or early teens