Mouth cancer

In the UK, around 4000 cases of mouth cancer are diagnosed annually. This type of head and neck cancer is more common in men than women.

Reviewed by Mr Alastair Fry, Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon

At a glance

What is mouth cancer?

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, can occur anywhere within the mouth, but is most commonly found in the tongue, the lips, and the floor of the mouth. Mouth cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control and develop into tumours.

Mouth cancer is one of the most common types of head and neck cancer. It is more common in men, with 1 in 75 men being diagnosed in their lifetime compared to 1 in 150 women.

Cromwell Hospital is the leading private hospital in London for the diagnosis and treatment of mouth cancer.

Many people who develop mouth cancer have no risk factors. However, you may be at additional risk of developing mouth cancer in the following instances:

  • You have previously had head and neck cancer
  • You take immuno-suppressive medication
  • You have prolonged sun exposure (lip cancer)
  • You are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV oral cancer)
  • You have oral lichen planus
  • You have been exposed to radiation
  • You chew betel quid (a type of herbal stimulant).

Early warning signs of mouth cancer include abnormal patches of skin within the mouth:

  • Erythroplakia – A red, raised patch of skin that bleeds if scraped. About 70% of erythroplakias are cancerous or pre-cancerous.
  • Leukoplakia – A white spot or patch of skin. About 25% of leukoplakias are cancerous or pre-cancerous.
  • Erythroleukoplakia – A patch of skin with both white and red areas.

Other symptoms include:

  • Oral ulcers or sores that are painful and do not heal
  • A lump in the neck, face, jaw, cheek, tongue or gums
  • Unexplained loose teeth
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw
  • Dentures that cause discomfort or do not fit well
  • Bad breath
  • Weight loss.

If you are diagnosed with mouth cancer, your condition will be graded based on its severity. Assigning a stage to your condition helps your consultant determine the best course of treatment for you.

There are three staging points for mouth cancer:

  • T – The size of the primary tumour and how much it has invaded surrounding tissues
  • N – Whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • M – Whether the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body (usually the lungs).

The size of the tumour (staging point T) is graded from numbers one through to five. The higher the number, the larger and more invasive the tumour is considered to be.

Our multidisciplinary approach

At Cromwell Hospital, our head and neck surgeons have extensive experience in treating mouth cancer patients, as well as delivering reconstructive surgery. We provide the best chance for successful mouth cancer treatment with the least effects on your health.

With our multidisciplinary approach to patient care, you can be rest assured that you are receiving the best, most informed treatment plan possible, with input from a wide range of medical experts. You will also receive extensive support before, during, and after treatment, through cancer counselling sessions, speech and language therapy, dietary advice, and more.

In 2022, we established our first-of-its-kind Head and Neck Survivorship Clinic to provide support services to individuals with head and neck cancer. Our multidisciplinary service – which includes surgery, oral medicine, restorative dentistry, speech and language therapy, dietary advice, and physiotherapy – helps patients navigate their diagnosis and any obstacles they face, as well as monitoring patients post-treatment and providing support with symptom management.

Diagnostic tests for mouth cancer

As well as a physical examination of your mouth and lymph nodes, you may also need to undergo some of the following procedures for a diagnosis to be made:

Mouth cancer treatment

At our Integrated Cancer Campus, we provide two types of treatment for mouth cancer: surgery and radiotherapy. Both types of treatment aim to eliminate the tumour(s). 

Surgery involves removing both the tumour and a small portion of surrounding tissue – this surrounding tissue must be removed or the tumour will re-grow. Sometimes, this means removing part of structures like the jaw, which can require reconstructive surgery to restore.

Private mouth cancer consultants in London

Head and neck services at Cromwell Hospital are led by Mr Alastair Fry, an award-winning UK trained and accredited surgeon and leading expert on the management and treatment of mouth cancer.

Paying for your treatment

We welcome both self-paying and insured patients.

Our locations

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Please note - regrettably we are unable to answer specific medical questions or offer medical advice via email or telephone.