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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Oral Cavity (Mouth) Cancers

Head & Neck Cancer, Skin & Soft Tissue MDTOral cavity cancer (also known as mouth cancer) begins in the mouth, also called the oral cavity. This region of the body includes the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks (called the buccal mucosa), the teeth, the gums, most of the tongue, the bottom of the mouth, and the bony roof of the mouth, or hard palate.

The mouth cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about oral cavity cancer, its side effects and your treatment options.

About oral cavity or mouth cancer

Oral cavity cancer is one of the ‘head and neck’ cancers which are categorised by the area where they begin.

The mouth, also called the oral cavity, includes the lips, gums and tongue. The muscles of the base of the tongue continue into the upper throat (oropharynx). Cancer that starts in the mouth is called oral cancer.

Cancer can begin in any part of the mouth – the lips, gums, inside lining of the cheeks and lips, front two-thirds of the tongue, floor of the mouth under the tongue, bony roof of the mouth (hard palate), and the small area of gum behind the wisdom teeth.

According to the Cancer Council of Australia, over 1300 people are diagnosed with an oral cancer (mouth and tongue) each year, which is the largest of all the head and neck cancers.

What are the symptoms of mouth cancer?

Symptoms of mouth cancer can include:

  • A lump in your neck
  • Loose teeth
  • Swelling or a sore on your lip that won’t heel
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Changes in speech
  • Bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • White or red patches on the mouth, tongue or gums
  • Unexplained weight loss

If the disease is diagnosed early, surgery performed by an expert in head and neck cancer is usually the main treatment. The prognosis is often very good.

How is mouth cancer diagnosed?

Signs of mouth cancer are often first detected by your dentist. Your doctor or dentist is likely to examine your mouth, throat, tongue, cheeks, ears and eyes. You may also be referred to a specialist for additional tests, such as:

  • Endoscopy - In an endoscopy, a flexible tube (endoscope) is used to examine the nose, sinuses, larynx (voice box) and pharynx (throat).
  • Biopsy - A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue which is sent to a pathologist to determine if cancer cells are present.
  • X-rays - X-rays of the head and neck can be used to see if cancer cells are present in the jaw, lungs or chest.
  • Scans - PET, CT and MRI scans to determine the location, stage and spread of cancer cells.

The San expert team will review the diagnosis and tailor a treatment plan specifically for you and your cancer.

What are my treatment options for mouth cancer?

There are several ways to treat mouth cancer, depending on the location and stage, including:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer
  • Radiation therapy, using high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to destroy cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy with drugs that kill cancer cells

If you have mouth cancer, your doctors will discuss your treatment options with you. The San’s expert team will view your results and determine the best treatment plan for you. Ensure that you ask questions about potential changes in your appearance, speech or ability to swallow.

Also, find out what resources are available to you after treatment, such as rehabilitation and other support services.

Resources and useful mouth cancer links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services