Oral Cancer Causes and Symptoms

Every year, more than 21,000 men and 9,000 women are diagnosed with oral cancer. If found early, oral cancer has a nearly 90 percent cure rate, but by the time the disease is found, often it has already spread to the neck and throat. One in four people will die of oral cancer due to late diagnosis and treatment. Livonia dentist Dr. James R. Stewart Jr. wants you to know the symptoms of oral cancer and some of the risk factors for developing the disease.

Oral cancer most commonly develops on the lips and tongue, but the disease can also found on the cheek lining, floor of the mouth, gums, and roof of the mouth. Oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas and typically spread quickly. Some forms start as a visible white or red patch called leukoplakia.


  • Smoking, tobacco.Tobacco use causes most oral cancers. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, or using snuff, dip, or chewing tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer. Longtime heavy smokers are most at risk. Tobacco users who drink alcohol heavily are at an even greater risk. Three out of four people with oral cancer have used tobacco, alcohol, or both.
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Chronic irritation (rough teeth, dentures, or fillings)


Sore, lump, or ulcer in the mouth

  • May be a deep, hard-edged crack in the tissue
  • Usually pale, but may be dark or discolored
  • On the tongue, lip, or other area of the mouth
  • Usually painless at first, but can cause burning sensation or pain

Other symptoms that might signify oral cancer include:

  • Problems chewing
  • Mouth sores
  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Tongue problems
  • Weight loss

Get Screened

A dentist can find oral cancer when performing a routine dental cleaning and examination. Contact our Livonia dentist office (734) 425-4400 to schedule a consultation if you have a sore in your mouth or lip, or a lump in your neck that does not go away within one month. Early diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer greatly increases the chances of survival.. We serve patients from Novi, Farmington Hills, Plymouth, Dearborn, and the surrounding areas.