Cancer Care

Oral Cancer

MaineHealth provides the full range of care for people with oral cancer, including screening, diagnosis and treatment. See your primary care provider if you have a mouth sore that won’t heal. It is important to treat oral cancer as early as possible for the best possible outcomes.

What is oral cancer? 

Oral cancer is cancer that develops in anywhere in the mouth.  With oral cancer, abnormal cells grow out of control and damage surrounding tissue.  Oral cancer can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and beyond if left untreated.  Anyone can get oral cancer. Learn how to prevent oral cancer from happening in the first place. Oral cancer risks include:

  • Tobacco use (smoking and smokeless tobacco)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • HPV exposure
  • Intense sun exposure to the lips
  • Family history of cancer
  • Age

Patient navigators are here to help.

Patient navigators partner with you through your journey towards recovery by providing the help and resources you need.

Oral cancer symptoms 

Symptoms can vary between patients.  Talk to your provider if you are having any of the symptoms . An examination of the mouth is part of routine physical exams by providers that include your doctor and dentist.described below. The following symptoms affecting the oral cavity are:

  • Swelling or thickness of lips or gums
  • Lumps or rough spots
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Sores on the mouth, face and neck that won’t heal and bleed easily
  • Issues chewing or swallowing
  • Numbness or loss of feeling
  • Sore throat (or feeling that something is caught in your throat)
  • White, red, or speckled patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth

Oral cancer evaluation

Oral cancer evaluation and diagnosis involves a physical exam of the mouth by your doctor or dentists. Screening can include:

  •  X-rays
  • CT scans
  • PET scans
  • MRI scans
  • Barium swallow
  • Endoscopies
  • Biopsies
  • Lab tests
  • Surgery

Oral cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and the size and location of the tumor. Oral cancer treatment is most effective when the cancer is diagnosed early. There are many methods for treating oral cancer. Patients and doctors will choose which treatment method is appropriate:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Clinical trials

Patients and doctors will choose which treatment method is appropriate. Patients may need further services once their cancer has been treated. These include:

  • Dentistry
  • Speech therapy
  • Rehabilitation
  • Plastic (reconstructive) surgery
  • Follow-up exams

Oral cancer can come back once it is has been treated. This means different treatment methods have to be used. Speak with your doctor about the chances of a full recovery.