Oral Cancer: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2019

Oral cancer is a malignant tumor arising anywhere in the mouth. Most oral cancers arise from the tongue or the floor of the mouth. Almost all oral cancers arise from the flattened cells (squamous cells) that line the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas.

Signs and symptoms associated with oral cancer include a sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal, mouth ulcers, red or white plaques in the mouth, and painful swallowing. Other possible symptoms include bleeding, ear pain, cough, and enlargement of the neck lymph nodes.

Causes of oral cancer

While the exact cause is not known for all oral cancers, there are known risk factors for their development. Risk factors for include tobacco use, alcohol use, sun exposure (lips), and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

Other oral cancer symptoms and signs


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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.