Oral Cancer: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Medically Reviewed on 3/28/2019

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.


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

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/28/2019

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