Cancer of the Mouth and Throat

Mouth and throat cancers most commonly affect patients over the age of 40 who smoke or chew tobacco. Excessive alcohol consumption, a family history of head and neck cancer, and exposure to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are other common risk factors.

Symptoms of oral and throat cancers can vary depending on the type and location of the cancer, but may include white patches in the mouth, a sore on the lips, bleeding, loose teeth, difficulty swallowing, earache and more. The doctor determines the stage of the cancer through a series of diagnostic exams before determining the best treatment plan. Customized treatment plans may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these approaches.

Cancer of the Mouth and Throat Treatment


Two of the key weapons in the fight against cancer, chemotherapy and radiation both set out to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses drugs that target rapidly dividing cells, a key feature of cancerous tissue. In addition to cancer cells, there are fast-dividing normal cells in the body, such as in hair follicles and the digestive system.

The active chemotherapy medicines – called cytotoxic, anti-neoplastic drugs – can’t distinguish between rapidly dividing cells, resulting in many of the side effects that are common to treatment. Radiation treatment, also known as radiotherapy, kills cancer cells by damaging the DNA of the tumor tissue. Radiation passes through the body to be absorbed by a tumor, causing the damage that kills the cancer cells. Different types of radiotherapy match the different types of tumors, so there are options for treatment that minimize damage to healthy tissue through precise targeting. This limits side effects to the treatment locations, though radiotherapy also causes fatigue as an overall effect.

Excision of Cancer

Surgical approaches to cancers of the mouth and throat depend greatly on the location, stage, and size of tumors. Reconstructive surgery options typically follow the more aggressive surgeries.

A normal tumor resection aims to remove all cancerous tissue, as well as normal tissue surrounding the tumor, to evaluate the extent of cancer cell advance.

Some cancers of the lip may be treated with Mohs surgery, where thin slices of tissue are removed and evaluated under microscope during the procedure. Additional slices are taken until no cancer is found. Glossectomy removes some or all of the tongue, while a mandibulectomy addresses the jawbone. A maxillectomy addresses cancer of the hard palate forming the roof of the mouth, and a laryngectomy removes the larynx.