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The tumor can penetrate the outer skin

The tumor can penetrate the outer skin

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Oral cancer is one of the ten most common malignant types of cancer in Germany. You can read here what the tumor looks like and what its causes are.

Oral cavity cancer – also called oral cavity cancer – is the case About oral cavity cancer. This refers to all types of cancer that can occur in different areas of the oral cavity (such as the floor of the mouth, tongue, palate, inner cheek wall, jaw, gums, lips, tonsils, and salivary glands). These usually arise from the upper layer of cells in the oral mucosa. With about 10,000 new cases annually, oral cancer is one of the ten most common malignant cancers in Germany.

How does mouth cancer develop?

Oral cancer develops during the initial stages. © NakedKing/Imago

Oral cancer does not develop suddenly, “overnight,” so to speak. Cancer develops during the initial stages. This occurs over a long period of months or sometimes years. Since doctors, especially specialists, are usually aware of these initial stages, regular examination of the mouth, for example at the dentist, is crucial.

Experts divide the spread of oral cancer into different stages (stages). In addition, certain characteristics of cancer cells can be determined (classification) using tissue samples in the laboratory. These classifications help doctors decide on appropriate treatment. Staging examines how different the cancer cells are from normal oral cavity tissue. Four different grades of tumor histology are distinguished:

What is a differentiated tumor?

Healthy, fully differentiated cells can perform well the typical tasks of the tissue in question. However, things are different with cancer cells. The following applies here: the less differentiated a cancer cell is (meaning the less similar it is to normal tissue), the more malignant it is.

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  • Type G1 (low risk): The tumor tissue remains very similar to normal mucosa and is considered less aggressive. They are also well differentiated.
  • Type G2: The tissue of the tumor differs little from the normal mucosa of the oral cavity and is indeed somewhat heterogeneous.
  • Type G3 and Type G4 (high risk): Tumor tissue barely or no longer resembles normal mucosal tissue and is only poorly to undifferentiated.

Tumor stage, which is described according to the current TNM classification, indicates whether and to what extent the cancer has spread locally and whether surrounding lymph nodes or other organs have already been affected by the spread (for example, tumor category T4 for the primary tumor: growth of the tumor into Nearby tissues such as vessels, nerves, or bones regardless of the size of the tumor.

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Oral cancer: typical symptoms and signs

The symptoms caused by a tumor in the oral cavity sometimes depend on where it is located in the mouth. For example, if cancer occurs on the lips or in the mucous membrane of the mouth, it often appears as a sore that refuses to heal. Therefore, anyone who notices a painful spot in his mouth should consult a doctor or dentist after two weeks at the latest and obtain clarification of the condition. The following symptoms are also typical complaints of oral cancer:

  • the mom
  • White or red spots in the mouth (that cannot be wiped or scraped off)
  • swelling
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Increased saliva secretion
  • Teeth become loose or dentures become worse
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Because oral cancer does not cause any symptoms for a very long time, it is often diagnosed very late. Those affected should notice rough, hard, white, gray, or red spots and not rush to dismiss them as bite injuries or pressure sores. In the early stages of oral cancer, for example, slight numbness of the gums, tongue, or lip may occur. If the tumor is advanced or in the terminal stage, depending on the severity of the cancer, there may be other symptoms such as loss of appetite, unwanted weight loss, fatigue, or loss of performance. It is also possible for mouth cancer to spread to the surrounding area, break through the outer skin, or grow into the jawbone.

Oral cancer diagnosis: What are the chances of recovery?

For oral cancer, the average five-year survival rate is about 50 percent. This means that the cancer is fatal in half of patients within five years of diagnosis. The remaining 50 percent of those infected live longer than five years or the disease is curable. The chances of recovery depend on various factors.

The earlier oral cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chances of recovery. However, if the tumor in the mouth is not treated, in most cases the disease will gradually worsen. Therefore, the prognosis of patients worsens as the disease progresses. The later the initial diagnosis is made and the more advanced the tumor is at that stage, the greater the chance that oral cancer will recur within two years of successful treatment.

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Treatment options for mouth cancer

If the cancer has not spread far, surgery is usually performed to remove the tumor. It is not uncommon for cervical lymph nodes to be removed. In addition, in some cases radiation or chemotherapy may be necessary. These treatments are done either before or after surgery.

Oral cancer: causes and risk factors

There is no known clear cause of mouth cancer. Instead, there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Therefore, you should be aware of the following risk factors:

  • smoking
  • Regular consumption of alcohol (especially hard drinks)
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Chronic ulcers in the oral mucosa
  • Infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV)

Frequently asked questions about oral cancer

What is mouth cancer?

All cancers of the oral cavity (tongue, muscles or small salivary glands) are considered oral cancer. These are mostly (80 to 90 percent) so-called squamous cell carcinomas. These tumors arise from the mucosa. Several areas of the oral cavity as well as the larynx or throat can also be affected. Then experts talk about multi-chamber tumor growth.

How do you detect oral cancer?

When the oral mucosa is healthy, it is smooth, especially smooth and red to pink. Changes in the mucous membrane can be due to inflammation. However, if the changes in the mucosa continue for longer than two weeks, it is possible that it is oral cancer and an examination should be performed by a doctor. The doctor will then usually examine the white discoloration, swelling, retraction, difficulty swallowing and speaking, and increased salivation in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Oral cancer can also be diagnosed using a tissue sample.

What does mouth cancer look like?

Oral cancer can present in several ways. Non-erasable white or reddish changes in the oral mucosa, open areas (ulcers), or tumors in the mouth are supposed to be harmless signs.

What does oral cancer look like in the early stages?

The first signs of oral cancer can be, for example, non-healing wounds in the oral mucosa. In the early stages, these changes are usually rough, raised, or demarcated and painless.


This article only contains general information about the health topic in question and is therefore not intended for self-diagnosis, treatment or medication. It does not, in any way, replace a visit to a doctor. Our editorial team is not permitted to answer individual questions about medical conditions.