The mouth consists of many different parts, such as the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor and roof of the mouth, salivary glands and throat.
Sometimes, the cells that make up part of the mouth can become malignant. This means that they do not work properly anymore and multiply uncontrollably, causing a tumour to grow. When this happens, this is called mouth cancer, or oral cancer.
Only a very few people who have had cancer before develop oral cancer.
Due to treatment of the first cancer, survivors sometimes have a higher risk of oral cancer. There are a number of things anyone can do to lower the risk of having oral cancer, such as avoiding smoking.
Am I at higher risk of oral cancer?
Anyone, including people who have never had cancer treatment, may develop oral cancer. However, there are some cancer treatments that may increase the risk of having oral cancer as a subsequent cancer later in life.
The following treatment can increase the risk of oral cancer:
Radiotherapy to the mouth or an area including the mouth
Graft versus host disease (GvHD) in the mouth after stem cell transplantation
You can find out if you had radiotherapy to the mouth or GvHD in the mouth by looking at your treatment summary. If you do not have a treatment summary or if you have any questions, do contact your treating hospital.
If you develop oral cancer, it does not always mean that this is caused by treatment for your first cancer. Oral cancer may have other causes, such as smoking tobacco, drinking (too much) alcohol and using recreational drugs. Oral cancer can also be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).
What are the symptoms and signs of oral cancer?
There are symptoms and signs that can tell you if you might have oral cancer. You might not have these symptoms and signs at the moment, but it is important to be aware of them in case they may develop in the future.
These symptoms and signs may suggest that you have oral cancer:
Wounds anywhere in the mouth that do not heal and that may be painful
Lumps anywhere in the mouth and/or neck that do not go away
Discolouration of the mouth
Numbness, pain or bleeding in the mouth
Difficulty swallowing, eating or talking
Loose teeth or molars
Bad mouth odour
These symptoms and signs are often caused by something else. However, early diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer is very important. If you experience any of these symptoms or signs, please contact your dentist, general practitioner or follow-up care specialist soon.
I am at higher risk of oral cancer. What tests should I have and when?
If you are at higher risk of oral cancer, we do not recommend regular testing at this point. However, it is important that you are aware of the symptoms and signs of oral cancer. If you have any of these symptoms or signs, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist may:
Do a physical exam.
What happens if I (might) have lung cancer?
If you (might) have oral cancer, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist will refer you to an oncology team. This team may include, but is not limited to:
Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist
Maxillofacial surgeon (surgeon specialised in the area of the mouth)
Radiation oncologist (physician specialised in treating cancer with radiotherapy)
The specialist may discuss different treatment options with you.
What else can I do?
Knowing that you may be at increased risk of subsequent cancer can be difficult. Talking to friends and family can be helpful as well as specialist counselling and/or contact with support groups, such as patient organisations. For more information on taking care of your mental health, please read: Mental health problems.
To lower your risk of oral cancer, adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle is extremely important. In particular, it is important to avoid/quit smoking, drink less or no alcohol, and maintain regular oral hygiene. Taking care of your mental health may be beneficial; even small changes to your lifestyle can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. For more information on taking up a healthier lifestyle, please read: Health promotion.
In both boys and girls, vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) may reduce the risk of developing oral cancer.
It is important that you are aware of the possibility of developing oral cancer and that you know the symptoms and signs. If you have any further questions or if the information in this brochure concerns you, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.
Where can I find more information?
You may find more information about oral cancer online. However, it is important to be aware that this information is not always up to date or accurate.
On this website, you can also find more information related to this topic:
While the PanCare PLAIN information group strives to provide accurate and complete information that is up-to-date as of the date of publication, you can check with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist if this summary reflects the most up-to-date information available and whether it is relevant for you.
Please do not rely solely on this information. It is best to also seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom.
No warranty or representation, expressed or implied, is made concerning the accuracy, reliability, completeness, relevance, or timeliness of this information. PanCare has produced the English version and PanCare is not responsible for the translated versions of this summary.