Home  >  Health Encyclopedia  >  Health Encyclopedia Home

Health Encyclopedia


Health Encyclopedia Home

Oral Cancer Introduction

Oral Cancer Introduction

People with oral cancer now have more treatment choices and more hope for survival than ever before. Doctors keep finding new treatments for oral cancer, which allows for people diagnosed with it to live better lives.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is cancer that starts in the mouth or oral cavity. Oral cancers are relatively common and highly curable if found and treated at an early stage. A doctor or dentist usually finds oral cancers in their early stages because the mouth can be easily examined. The majority of people who get oral cancer are smokers or use tobacco.

Anatomy of the oral cavity

Illustration of the Oral Cavitiy
Anatomy of the Oral Cavity (Mouth) Click to Enlarge

The oral cavity, or the mouth, includes many parts:

  • The lips

  • The lining inside the lips and cheeks (also called buccal mucosa)

  • The front two-thirds of the tongue (also called oral tongue)

  • The gums and teeth

  • The bottom of the mouth (floor of the mouth)

  • The bony ceiling of the mouth (also called the hard palate)

  • The area behind the wisdom teeth (called the retromolar trigone)

The back of the tongue (also called the base of the tongue), the back of the roof of the mouth (or soft palate), and the tonsils are not considered part of the oral cavity. Instead, they are considered part of the region called the oropharynx, or throat.

Every part of the mouth has an important function. For example, the lips are very important for speaking. The tongue is also very important for speaking, as well as for swallowing. The gums help protect the teeth and keep them healthy. Salivary glands in the mouth make saliva to keep the mouth wet and to help digest food.

Cancers of the oral cavity can cause eating and speaking problems, and can sometimes hinder normal breathing.

Types of oral cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 90% of all oral cavity tumors are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells make up the lining of the oral cavity, also called the mucosa.

Other less common types of oral cancer include tumors of the salivary glands, including adenoid cystic carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and other salivary gland cancers.

Related Items
Wellness Library
  Oral Cancer Checkups Protect Lives
Cancer Source
  Statistics About Oral Cancer
  Am I At Risk for Oral Cancer?
  How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?
  What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
  Understanding Your Stage of Oral Cancer
  What Happens During Surgery for Oral Cancer
  What to Expect During Radiation Therapy for Oral Cancer
  What Happens During Chemotherapy for Oral Cancer
  Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for Oral Cancer
  How Does My Doctor Find Oral Cancer?
  Important Information About Your Treatment Options for Oral Cancer
  Common Side Effects After Surgery for Oral Cancer
  Common Side Effects After Radiation Therapy for Oral Cancer
  Tests that Help Evaluate Oral Cancer
  I've Just Been Told I Have Oral Cancer
  Can I Survive Oral Cancer? What Is My Prognosis?
  How Can I Keep Oral Cancer From Recurring?
  What Can I Do If I’m At Risk for Oral Cancer?
  Tell Your Healthcare Team How You Feel During Treatment for Oral Cancer
  Making the Decision to Have Chemotherapy for Oral Cancer
  What to Expect After Chemotherapy for Oral Cancer
  Questions to Ask About Treatment for Oral Cancer
  Surgery for Oral Cancer
  Making the Decision to Have Radiation Therapy for Oral Cancer
Cancer FAQs
  Frequently Asked Questions About Oral Cancer
NCI Patient Summary
  Salivary Gland Cancer
  Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer
  Screening for Oral Cancer
  Oral Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)
Adult Diseases and Conditions
  Oral Cancer
  Oral Cancer and Tobacco