Mouth cancer usually involves the tongue, but any type of cancer that is found in the oral cavity is considered a form of oral cancer.
Besides the tongue, oral cancers can be found in the floor of the mouth, cheeks, gums, lips, or roof of the mouth (palate). Mouth cancers are called squamous cell carcinoma and usually metastasize very quickly.
Causes of Mouth Cancer
Over 75 percent of mouth cancer is related to tobacco usage. Cigarettes, pipes, and cigars usually cause cancer to form anywhere in the mouth, as well as the lungs and/or bladder. Pipe smoking also frequently causes lip cancer. Chewing tobacco is the common cause of cancer in the cheeks, gums, or lips.
Other causes are alcohol consumption, the human papilloma virus (HPV), and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Patients who consume alcohol frequently are almost 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with mouth cancer; patients who drink and smoke are at an even higher risk. Doctors are studying the link between HPV and mouth cancer in closer detail, but it is believed that there is a connection.
Stages of Mouth Cancer
Because mouth cancer tends to spread very quickly, it is extremely important to seek treatment immediately if a patient shows any of the symptoms described above.
Mouth and lip cancer are categorized by the following stages:
- Stage I: The tumor is less than 2 centimeters in size and has not spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage II: The cancerous area is between 2-4 centimeters in size; has not spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage III: By this stage, one of two things has occurred: The tumor is more than 4 centimeters in size; the tumor is any size but has spread to one of the lymph nodes on the same side of the neck as the cancer.
- Stage IV: By stage IV, any of the following may have occurred: The cancer has spread to other areas of the oral cavity; the lymph nodes may be affected by the cancer; the tumor is any size and has reached more than one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer; the cancer has reached the lymph nodes on the other, or both, sides of the neck, or the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body.