Oral cancer is one of the most common cancer in Indian males and most common cause is tobacco chewing. Oral cancer, which could involve any part of the oral cavity, can be life-threatening if it is not detected and treated early. Oral cancer belongs to a larger group of cancers called Head and Neck Cancers. 

Oral Cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth, which includes Cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, the floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate sinuses, and pharynx (throat).

What are the symptoms of Oral Cancer?

 The most common symptoms of Oral Cancer include:

  • Swellings, limps, rough sport / crusts, or eroded areas on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth
  • White, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Unexplained numbness, loss of sensation or pain / tenderness in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
  • Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaws or tongue
  • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
  • Persistent ear pain
  • A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
  • Rapid weight loss

Risk Factors for Oral Cancers

Risk factors for developing Oral Cancers include:

1. Smoking - Cigarette / pipe smokers are six times more likely to develop Oral Cancers than non-smokers.

2. Smokeless Tobacco Users - Users of dip, snuff, or other types of tobacco products are fifty times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips than those who do not use them.

3. Excessive consumption of Alcohol - Oral Cancers are about six times more common in alcoholics than non-alcoholics.

4. Family History of Cancer - There is a higher risk of developing Cancer in the head and neck regions, including the mouth if a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or offspring) has been diagnosed with Cancers of the head and neck.

5. Excessive Sun Exposure - Prolonged / excessive exposure to sunlight, especially at a young age can contribute to the risk of developing Skin Cancers.

6. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) - Certain Human Papilloma Viruses are a risk factor for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC).

Diagnosis of Oral Cancers

Early diagnosis of Oral Cancers helps reduce the mortality rate which then helps improve treatment outcomes.

Tests and Procedures for Diagnosis

1. Oral cancers screening - This consists of an examination of the lips and mouth to look for abnormalities or areas of irritation, such as sores and white patches (Leukoplakia), lumps, or irregular tissue changes in the neck, head, face, and the oral cavity.

2. Biopsy Procedures - A sample of cell is removed from the region for a laboratory test / biopsy. In the laboratory, these cells are analyzed for Cancer or precancerous changes that indicate a risk of Cancer.


There are various ways to treat an oral cancer. The most common ones include:

1. Surgery to remove the tumor 

2. To remove Cancer that has spread to the Neck 

3. To reconstruct the Mouth

4. Radiation Therapy

5. Chemotherapy 

How to Prevent Oral Cancers

  • Abstaining from smoking / using tobacco products
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Limiting exposure to the sun. Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer of the lips, especially the lower lip
  • Conducting a self-examination at least once a month
  • Visiting your dentist every six months

Coping with Oral Cancer

  • Maintain a positive attitude as far as possible
  • Learn more about Mouth Cancer
  • Talk to the survivors of mouth cancer
  • Keep family and friends close


Health education, tobacco / alcohol control, early detection, and treatment etc., are necessary to reduce the burden of Oral Cancers. Improving awareness among the general public, including primary care practitioners, dispensing screening / early diagnostic facilities for people, especially for tobacco and alcohol users, and providing adequate treatment for those diagnosed with Cancers are critical in controlling Oral Cancers, a preventable disease.