Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

Oral, Head and Neck cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the mouth. Oropharyngeal cancer begins in the portion of the throat just below the mouth, which includes the base of the tongue, the soft palate, tonsils and the side and back walls of the throat.

Risk Factors

  • Tobacco: Use of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco increases the risk.
  • Alcohol: Consumption of alcohol increases the risk, especially when combined with smoking.
  • HPV: Human papillomaviruses (HPV) is now linked to oropharyngeal cancers.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop oral or oropharyngeal cancers than women.
  • Age: Most diagnoses of oral or oropharyngeal cancers occur after the age of 62.

Signs and Symptoms

Patients experiencing any of these symptoms should consult a physician.

  • Mouth sore that won’t heal
  • A lump or thickening in cheeks, or a lump or mass in the neck
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing or tongue numbness
  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty moving tongue or jaw, or swollen jaw


If oral or oropharyngeal cancer is suspected, your physician may use the following tests for screening:

  • Medical history and physical exam – as a first step, your physician will ask about family history and check for possible physical signs of cancer.
  • Complete head and neck exam – a specialist will use mirrors or fiber-optic scopes to examine the back of the throat and tongue.
  • Panendoscopy – while a patient is under anesthesia, a physician may use various types of endoscopes to examine inside the mouth and throat.
  • Biopsy – a sample of tissue is removed and looked at under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm an oral or oropharyngeal cancer diagnosis.


If cancer is suspected, the patient will be referred to an oncologist who will conduct tests and determine the appropriate treatment plan. Common treatments for oral or oropharyngeal cancers include:

  • Surgery is commonly used to remove cancerous tumors.
  • Radiation therapy can be used as the main treatment for small cancers, or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy for larger cancers.
  • Chemotherapy, often used in combination with radiation therapy or surgery, can treat some cancers.
  • Targeted therapies are a newer treatment option for patients with specific mutations.

Clinical Research

At Comprehensive Cancer Centers, research and the participation in clinical research trials is a vital part of our mission. Our physicians are dedicated to finding new ways to treat this disease. We are able to offer our patients access to groundbreaking clinical research close to home. Many of the advancements being made in cancer treatment are the result of in-depth clinical research. For more information about our research efforts, click here.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.