Oral cancer involves tumors or malignant growths in the mouth, throat, or lips. The prognosis for oral cancer helps indicate the course of the disease and the likelihood of survival, although this is different for each individual.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), cancer of the oral cavity and oropharynx are two of the most common types of cancer of the neck and head region. The oropharynx is the part of the throat that sits at the back of the mouth.

Oral cancer accounts for around for roughly 3% of all cancers that doctors diagnose in the United States. The survival rate for this disease depends on the type of cancer, the individual’s health, and whether the cancer has spread.

This article will discuss the prognosis, causes, symptoms, and treatments for oral cancer.

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The prognosis for oral cancer indicates the likelihood of survival of individuals with oral cancer. Information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database helps determine the 5-year relative survival rates for oral cancer in the U.S. according to the spread of the disease.

The 5-year relative survival rate compares the survival of people who have cancer with those without the disease across 5 years since receiving a diagnosis.

The SEER database categorizes cancer into:

  • localized, where there is no sign of cancer spread
  • regional, where cancer spreads to nearby lymph nodes or structures
  • distant, where cancer spreads to distant parts of the body

The overall 5-year relative survival rate for oral cancer is about 60%.


The 5-year relative survival rates for cancers that affect the tongue are:

  • Localized: 83%
  • Regional: 69%
  • Distant: 41%
  • All stages combined: 68%

Read more about tongue cancer.


The 5-year relative survival rates for cancers that affect the lips are:

  • Localized: 93%
  • Regional: 65%
  • Distant: 33%
  • All stages combined: 91%

Read more about lip cancer.


The 5-year relative survival rates for cancers that affect the oropharynx are:

  • Localized: 59%
  • Regional: 59%
  • Distant: 28%
  • All stages combined: 50%

Read more about oropharyngeal cancer.

Floor of the mouth

The 5-year relative survival rates for cancers that affect the floor of the mouth are:

  • Localized: 73%
  • Regional: 41%
  • Distant: 23%
  • All stages combined: 52%

Oral cancer includes cancers that occur in the mouth or the back of the throat.

The oral cavity includes the:

  • teeth
  • lips
  • the lining of the cheeks and lips
  • gums
  • the bony roof of the mouth
  • the floor of the mouth below the tongue
  • front two-thirds of the tongue
  • the area behind the wisdom teeth

The oropharynx, which is behind the oral cavity, includes the

  • the base of the tongue
  • tonsils
  • side and back walls of the throat
  • soft palate

Most cases of oral cancer start in squamous cells, which form the lining of the mouth and throat. Carcinoma in situ is the earliest type of squamous cell cancer.


A few common signs of oral cancer include:

  • sores in the mouth or lips that do not heal
  • thickening of the cheek, mouth, or lips
  • pain in the mouth
  • red or white patches on the tongue, gums, the lining of the mouth, or tonsils
  • difficulty in chewing or swallowing
  • numbness in lip, tongue, or other mouth areas
  • a pain or swelling in the jaw
  • a lump in the back of the throat or neck
  • pain in the ear
  • a difficulty in moving the tongue or jaw
  • pain around the teeth
  • changes in voice

Read more about the warning signs of oral cancer.

Several treatment options are available for oral cancer. Depending on the stage or severity of the disease, the use of either one or a combination of therapies might take place.

The different treatment approaches for oral cancer include:

  • Surgery: Surgeons will aim to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue to ensure the removal of all cancer cells. Surgeries might also involve the removal of the neck’s lymph nodes in case of the spread of cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: This approach uses high-energy X-rays to damage the DNA of the cancer cells and kill them.
  • Chemotherapy: This method involves administering anticancer drugs through the mouth or injected into the veins.
  • Targeted therapy: This approach involves administering medicines that target specific proteins in cancer cells. This therapy aims to slow the growth and spread of cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: This involves administering medicines that boost an individual’s immune system to fight cancer.

A few common factors that can cause oral cancer include the below:

  • tobacco use from smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes
  • using oral tobacco products
  • drinking excess alcohol
  • infection with human papillomavirus
  • issues with nutrition, such as not eating a nutritious diet
  • issues with oral hygiene

Oral cancer involves the cancer of the oral cavity and oropharynx. Although the overall 5-year relative survival rate of people with this disease is quite high, early detection is important.

People with oral cancer can have several symptoms, such as difficulty in swallowing, the presence of sores in the mouth and lips, numbness, and voice changes. Several treatment options are available for oral cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.