In the early stages, doctors may be able to cure mouth cancer with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy. In the later stages, it requires combination treatment.

Medical professionals usually refer to mouth cancer as “oral cancer” or “oral cavity cancer.”

When doctors first diagnose mouth cancer, they will run tests to determine its stage.

The treatment options and outlook depend on the type of cancer, if and how far it has spread, an individual’s general health, and the size and type of any tumors.

This article examines how doctors may cure or treat mouth cancer, the outlook, and more.

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There are several options for treating mouth cancer. If they find it early, a doctor might recommend surgery as the first option.

They may use radiation therapy alongside surgery, or they may use it as an alternative if the patient is unable to undergo surgery. Chemotherapy sometimes works to shrink tumors as well.

A newer treatment, called targeted therapy, uses medications to specifically target and attack cancer cells. This option may work for some people.

Treatment choices depend on the location of the cancer in the body, its stage, whether it has spread, and the size and type of any tumor.

Doctors can treat any stage of mouth cancer. However, as an individual’s cancer develops, the more difficult it might be to cure.

Lip and mouth cancer can also return after treatment.

In stages 0, I, II, or III, cancer may be only present in the mouth or one lymph node on the same side of the neck as the primary tumor. These stages may be easier to cure.

In stage IV, cancer has spread to other body parts, and a more aggressive treatment plan is appropriate.

However, in stage IV A and B, cancer has reached the lymph nodes and is still only present in the neck region, so doctors may still be able to treat it.

Stage IV C mouth cancer indicates cancer has spread to distant organs, so it is difficult to cure.

Special surgical techniques are available to treat cancer of the mouth. These include:

  • tumor resection to remove the entire tumor
  • Mohs micrographic surgery, which removes slices of the affected area until visible cancer cells are gone
  • glossectomy, removal of a portion of the tongue
  • mandibulectomy, removal of a portion of the jaw bone
  • maxillectomy, removal of a portion of the roof of the mouth
  • laryngectomy, removal of the voice box
  • neck dissection, if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes of the neck
  • reconstructive surgery, when required to restore appearance or function

After surgery, a person may temporarily require a feeding tube to assist with nutrition while the mouth and throat are healing.

Other therapies for mouth cancer include:

Learn more

Learn more about mouth cancer treatments.

The best database for tracking outlooks comes from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

They do not group cancers by stages 0-IV. Instead, they group cancers into localized, regional, and distant staging.

  • Localized: There is no sign that cancer has spread beyond the place where it began.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant body parts such as the lungs.

The NCI uses a 5-year relative survival rate to estimate someone’s outlook. A 5-year relative survival rate compares those with the same stage and type of cancer to those in the overall population.

For example, a group has a 5-year relative survival rate of 93% they are, on average, 93% as likely to live another 5 years after diagnosis as those in the general population.

The 5-year relative survival rates for mouth cancer are as follows:

Cancer typeStageSurvival Rate
LipAll Stages Combined91%
TongueAll Stages Combined68%
Floor of mouthLocalized73%
Floor of mouthRegional41%
Floor of mouthDistant23%
Floor of mouthAll Stages Combined52%
OropharynxAll Stages Combined50%

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about mouth cancer.

Can oral cancer be fully cured?

It is possible for doctors to cure oral cancer if they find it early.

They can treat oral cancer with several effective methods, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and combination therapy.

Medical professionals usually reserve chemotherapy for advanced cases.

The outcome depends on whether and how far the cancer has spread beyond the mouth.

What is the survival rate of mouth cancer?

With treatment, oral cancer can go into remission. However, every cancer has the possibility of returning. This is why doctors rely on 5-year survival rates to gauge treatment success.

  • For cancer of the lip, the 5-year survival rate is about 91%.
  • For tongue cancer, the 5-year survival rate is about 68%.
  • For cancer of the floor of the mouth, the 5-year survival rate is about 52%.
  • For cancer of the oropharynx, the 5-year survival rate is about 50%.

Survival rates for mouth cancer vary greatly depending on the location and whether the cancer is localized, regionalized, or distant.

When doctors catch mouth cancer, they can use a variety of treatments. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy can all attack the cancer. In addition, combination therapy drugs may also be useful.

Results will depend on the timeline of the cancer’s detection, the plan of treatment, and the body’s response.