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Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is a general term used to describe a range of cancers that affect the mouth region, including the lips, tongue, roof/floor of the mouth, cheeks, gums, tonsils and salivary glands.

Oral cancer symptoms

Symptoms of oral cancer can include:

  • loose teeth
  • a lump in your oral cavity or neck
  • a swollen lip or lip sore that won’t heal
  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • mouth bleeding
  • oral numbness or bleeding
  • unusual weight loss
  • speech changes
  • white or red patches on your mouth, tongue, inner cheeks or gums

Risk factors for oral cancer

While there is no single cause of oral cancer, there are a number of risk factors associated with oral cancer, including:

  • smoking (about 59%)
  • excess alcohol consumption (about 31%)
  • chewing betel-nut
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • nutritional imbalance
  • Human Papillomavirus
  • gum disease & tooth decay
  • poor oral hygiene
  • sun/UV exposure
oral cancer risk

Diagnosis of oral cancer

The first signs and symptoms of oral cancer are usually recognised and identified by your dentist during an oral examination. Your doctor may also detect anomalies during a routine examination of your head and neck areas. If your dentist or doctor finds signs and symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist for additional tests, which may include biopsies, endoscopies, X-rays or scans.

If you notice any signs and symptoms yourself, book an oral examination with your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.

Treatment for oral cancer

Oral cancer treatment varies, and depends on the type of cancer, its location and progression. Treatments include staging, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and palliative care.

Preventing oral cancer

A large percentage of oral cancers are caused by smoking and excess alcohol consumption, so quitting or reducing either will go a long way to help reduce your risk. The lip area is another risk area, so apply sun protection to your lips especially during high UV times of the day. It’s also important to maintain a healthy diet and good oral hygiene.


Cancer Council, page, Mouth cancer: Preventing mouth cancer. 2021, accessed 10 August 2022, (

In Fagan, M., Pawney, E., & Cancer Council Australia. (2015). Understanding head and neck cancers: A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends.