Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth. It can occur in the lining of the mouth or in the deeper tissues such as the bone, muscle, and nerves. Cancer of the mouth lining is called a carcinoma and makes up 90% of all oral cancer. Cancer of the mouth is most common in people over 50 years of age, but it can occur in younger people.
Oral cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Unfortunately, more people die from oral cancer than from cervical cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, or melanoma. This is because oral cancer is often diagnosed when it is already advanced. Early diagnosis and treatment is the most effective way to treat oral cancer.
Oral cancer is not caused by one thing, but certain factors increase its risk. Factors include smoking, chewing tobacco or using snuff, drinking excessive alcohol, having unprotected sun exposure to the lips, and chewing betel nut - all these increase the risk of developing oral cancer. This risk of oral cancer is even higher when people have more than one or all of these unhealthy habits.
Infections of the mouth with the human papillomavirus (HPV) may also increase the risk of oral cancer. For some, oral cancer develops without any of these risks. People that have had head and neck cancer in the past may also have an increased risk of oral cancer.