Oral cancer, sometimes called mouth cancer, can grow on the surface of your tongue, the insides of your cheeks, the roof of your mouth, or on your lips or gums. Even though it’s relatively uncommon, it can be challenging to treat.

It’s important to see your doctor or dentist if you have any pain, sores or other problems in your mouth. 

When oral cancer is found early, it’s often curable. But treatments, especially for advanced cancer, may cause long-term side effects. These complications can affect the way you look, or your ability to speak, eat or swallow.

What is Oral Cancer?

Anyone can get oral cancer. But it usually occurs among people who drink lots of alcohol or use tobacco products. Your risk also increases if you’ve been infected with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV-related oral cancers are on the rise—and tend to strike at a much younger age.

Signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Persistent pain in the mouth, including tongue pain
  • A sore that won’t heal
  • A red or white patch on your gums or tongue
  • A lump or unusual thickness within a cheek
  • Loose teeth
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue

Oral Cancer Treatment at Mercy 

Finding out you have oral cancer can feel overwhelming. You're not just worried about the cancer itself. You may also be nervous about the cosmetic or functional problems caused by treatment.

At Mercy, our goal is not just to help you beat cancer. We also care about your long-term quality of life. We’ll recommend treatments that reduce side effects without sacrificing effectiveness. And we’ll offer resources to help you cope with your diagnosis and recovery.

Your treatment strategy will depend on several factors. These include the type of oral cancer you have, where in your mouth it’s located and whether it’s early or advanced. You may need one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor. Your doctor will preserve as much healthy tissue or bone as possible. We also offer reconstruction for patients who need to rebuild part of their mouth. Advances in surgical technology at Mercy make it possible to treat hard-to-reach tumors using robotic-assisted, minimally invasive techniques.
  • Radiation treatments, including brachytherapy or external beam radiation therapy.
  • Medication, including chemotherapy or targeted therapy.

It’s natural to feel afraid when you have cancer. But it’s also okay to trust that things will get easier. Even if your road to recovery is long, you can rest assured Mercy will be with you every step of the way. We’ll provide the medical care and emotional support you need to get through this—and get on with your life.

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