Oral squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cells, which are the cells that line the lips and the inside of the mouth. Symptoms can include sores or a lump in the mouth, a sore throat, and white patches in the mouth.

Oral cancer affects the back of the mouth and the throat lining. It may also affect the tongue and the floor of the mouth.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of oral squamous cell carcinoma. This article also discusses how doctors diagnose the condition, possible treatment options, and more.

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In some cases, oral squamous cell carcinoma can cause visible signs such as:

  • a sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal
  • a lump or thickening in the lips, mouth, or cheek
  • a white or red patch on the:
    • gums
    • tongue
    • tonsil
    • lining of the mouth
  • a mass or lump in the back of the throat or the neck

Other possible symptoms include:

  • mouth pain that does not go away
  • a sore throat that does not go away
  • a feeling that something is caught in the throat that does not go away
  • problems chewing or swallowing
  • numbness in the tongue, lip, or other area of the mouth
  • jaw pain or swelling
  • loosening of the teeth
  • changes in the fit of dentures
  • changes in the voice
  • ear pain
  • unexplained weight loss

Learn more about what mouth cancer looks like.

Medical professionals do not fully understand what causes oral squamous cell carcinoma.

However, they do know that cancer typically happens as a result of genetic mutations. The body usually requires changes in a number of different genes for oral squamous cell carcinoma to develop.

Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing oral squamous cell carcinoma.

The main risk factor for this type of cancer is smoking tobacco, particularly if a person smokes more than two packs of cigarettes per day. This is because of the cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke.

The risk of developing oral cancer is three times higher in people who smoke compared to people who do not smoke.

Chewing tobacco or betel quid can also increase a person’s risk of oral cancer.

Alcohol consumption also increases a person’s risk of developing oral cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, a person who combines smoking and drinking alcohol is around 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer than people who do not smoke or drink.

Other factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing oral cancer include:

  • human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • excess body weight
  • consuming a diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • sex, as oral cancer is more likely to affect people assigned male at birth
  • age, as doctors most commonly diagnose oral cancers in people over the age of 55 years
  • having certain genetic syndromes, such as Fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenita

Learn more about oral cancer and tobacco.

To help reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may begin by asking a person about their symptoms and possible risk factors. They may also ask about their medical history and perform a physical examination.

If a doctor suspects oral cancer, they may use numerous tests to evaluate a person’s symptoms and either confirm the diagnosis or identify other possible causes.

Possible tests the doctor might order include:

  • Exfoliative cytology: During this test, a doctor will scrape a sample from the person’s mouth and then stain the sample with dye. If the cells appear abnormal, the doctor may then perform a biopsy.
  • Biopsy: During a biopsy, a doctor will remove a small piece of tissue and send it to the laboratory for analysis. If cancer cells are present, it can help a doctor diagnose oral cancer.
  • Panendoscopy: During this procedure, a doctor will pass different types of endoscopes down the mouth or nose. The doctor uses these endoscopes to look for tumors in the throat and voice box.

A doctor may also order imaging tests. They can help to see if the cancer has spread. Possible imaging tests include:

There are numerous treatment options for oral squamous cell carcinoma. They include:

  • Surgery: This involves removing the tumor and some tissue around it to reduce the chance of any cancer cells remaining, as well as lymph node dissection where necessary.
  • Radiation therapy: High energy X-rays or particles destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.
  • Chemotherapy: This involves taking anticancer medications to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors.
  • Targeted therapy: This involves taking medications that target specific proteins in cancer cells to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.
  • Immunotherapy: Medication to help boost the immune system.

A person’s doctor can advise on what treatment options they recommend and help them to create a suitable treatment plan.

Learn more about surgery for oral cancer and nonsurgical treatments for mouth cancer.

While it may not be possible to completely prevent oral squamous cell carcinoma, a person can take steps to reduce their risk. These include:

A person’s doctor can advise on more ways to reduce the risk of oral squamous cell carcinoma.

Learn more about preventing oral cancer.

Several factors can affect the outlook of a person with oral cancer. These factors include:

  • the stage of their cancer at diagnosis
  • the location of the cancer
  • whether the cancer has spread
  • how quickly treatment begins

According to MSD Manual, the 5-year survival rate for localized squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue is more than 75%. If the cancer affects the floor of the mouth, the 5-year survival rate is around 75%.

If the cancer affects the lower lip, the 5-year survival rate is around 90%.

If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is lower.

However, it is important to note that each person’s outlook is different. A doctor can provide more accurate information based on a person’s individual circumstances.

The survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition will likely affect them.

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Oral squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cells. These are the cells that line the lips and the inside of the mouth.

Symptoms of oral cancer include a sore or lump in the lip or mouth that does not heal, mouth pain, issues chewing or swallowing, and the feeling that something is caught in the throat that does not go away.

A doctor can order various tests to assist with diagnosing oral squamous cell carcinoma. After diagnosis, they can advise on which treatments they recommend. Options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.