Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is where a tumour develops in a part of the mouth. It may be on the surface of the tongue, the inside of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), the lips or gums.
Tumours can also develop in the glands that produce saliva, the tonsils at the back of the mouth, and the part of the throat connecting your mouth to your windpipe (pharynx). However, these are less common.
The symptoms of mouth cancer include:
See a GP or dentist if these symptoms do not get better within 3 weeks, particularly if you drink or smoke.
Find out more about the symptoms of mouth cancer.
Mouth cancer is categorised by the type of cell the cancer (carcinoma) starts to grow in.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of mouth cancer, accounting for 9 out of 10 cases.
Squamous cells are found in many areas of the body, including the inside of the mouth and in the skin.
Less common types of mouth cancer include:
Things that increase your risk of developing mouth cancer include:
Find out more about the causes of mouth cancer.
Mouth cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world, but it's much less common in the UK.
Around 8,300 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK, which is about 1 in every 50 cancers diagnosed.
More than 2 in 3 cases of mouth cancer develop in adults over the age of 55. Only 1 in 8 (12.5%) happen in people younger than 50.
Men are more likely to get mouth cancer than women. This may be because, on average, men tend to drink more alcohol than women.
Mouth cancer can develop in younger adults. HPV infection is thought to be linked with the most mouth cancers that happen in younger people.
There are three main treatment options for mouth cancer, including:
These treatments are often used in combination. For example, surgery may be followed by a course of radiotherapy to help prevent the cancer returning.
As well as trying to cure mouth cancer, treatment will focus on preserving important functions of the mouth, such as breathing, speaking and eating. Maintaining the appearance of your mouth will also be a high priority.
Find out more about treating mouth cancer.
Mouth cancer and its treatment can cause complications. It can affect the appearance of your mouth and cause problems with speaking and swallowing (dysphagia).
Dysphagia can be a serious problem. If small pieces of food enter your airways when you try to swallow and the food become lodged in your lungs, it could lead to a chest infection, known as aspiration pneumonia.
Find out more about the complications of mouth cancer.
The 3 most effective ways of preventing mouth cancer from happening, or stopping it from coming back after successful treatment, are:
The NHS recommends you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you drink as much as 14 units a week, it's best to spread it evenly over 3 or more days.
Find out about how to cut down on alcohol.
It's also important that you have regular dental check-ups. A dentist can often spot the early stages of mouth cancer.
Find out more about how to find an NHS dentist.
The outlook for mouth cancer can vary depending on which part of your mouth is affected and whether it has spread from your mouth into surrounding tissue. The outlook is better for mouth cancer that affects the lip, tongue or oral cavity.
If mouth cancer is diagnosed early, a complete cure is often possible in up to 9 in 10 cases using surgery alone.
Advances in surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy have resulted in much improved cure rates.
Overall, around 6 in 10 people with mouth cancer will live for at least 5 years after their diagnosis, and many will live much longer without the cancer returning.
Mouth cancer is a type of cancer that comes under the umbrella term "cancers of the head and neck".
Other types of head and neck cancer include: