Oral cavity cancer

Last updated: April 27, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Oral cavity cancers refer to malignant tumors of the oral mucosa, tonsils, and salivary glands. Predisposing factors include smoking, oral tobacco consumption, long term alcohol use, and human papilloma virus infection. Oral cavity cancers usually present in males, aged 55–60 years, with clinical features like pain, dysphagia, or a nonhealing ulcer on the tonsils, tongue, or oral mucosa. Clinically suspected cases are confirmed via histopathological examination of a biopsy specimen. Imaging and panendoscopy help determine the extent of the tumor and to rule out spread. Treatment depends upon the stage of the tumor and the extent of its spread, and may include surgical resection (usually with neck dissection), radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Risk factors
    • Oral tobacco consumption (e.g., snuff, paan/betel quid), smoking
    • Long-term alcohol consumption
    • Poor oral hygiene, chronic mechanical irritation (e.g., badly positioned dentures)
    • Human papillomavirus, particularly HPV 16, 18, 31, and 33
    • Presence of precancerous lesions : leukoplakia , erythroplakia , erythroleukoplakia


Types of cancers in the oral cavitytoggle arrow icon


Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

A second carcinoma often develops close to the primary lesion!


Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon


Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • Early diagnosis and treatment usually result in a good curative rate.
  • HPV-positive tumors have a good prognosis since they respond better to chemo- and/or radiotherapy.


Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Sim CQ. Cancers of the Oral Mucosa. In: Elston DM, Cancers of the Oral Mucosa. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: June 29, 2017. Accessed: July 4, 2017.
  2. What Are the Key Statistics About Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers?. Updated: January 6, 2017. Accessed: February 16, 2017.
  3. Orbak R, Bayraktar C, Kavrut F, Gündogdu C. Poor oral hygiene and dental trauma as the precipitating factors of squamous cell carcinoma. Oral Oncol. 2005; 41 (6): p.109-113.doi: 10.1016/j.ooe.2005.02.006 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  4. Kim SM. Human papilloma virus in oral cancer. J Korean Assoc Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2016; 42 (6): p.327-336.doi: 10.5125/jkaoms.2016.42.6.327 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  5. van Zyl A, Bunn BK. Clinical features of oral cancer. SADJ. 2012; 67 (10): p.566-569.
  6. Kokot N. Malignant Tonsil Tumor Surgery. In: Meyers AD, Malignant Tonsil Tumor Surgery. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: March 16, 2016. Accessed: February 16, 2017.
  7. Boahene DKO, Olsen KD, Lewis JE, Pinheiro AD, Pankratz VS, Bagniewski SM. Mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the parotid gland. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2004; 130 (7): p.849-856.doi: 10.1001/archotol.130.7.849 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  8. Gourin CG, Watts T, Williams HT, Patel VS, Bilodeau PA, Coleman TA. Identification of distant metastases with PET-CT in patients with suspected recurrent head and neck cancer. Laryngoscope. 2009; 119 (4): p.703-706.doi: 10.1002/lary.20118 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  9. Treatment Options for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer by Stage. Updated: March 2, 2017. Accessed: July 4, 2017.

Icon of a lock3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer