Lesions & Cancer of the Mouth

Lesions & Cancer of the Mouth

Mouth lesions and cancer are conditions that affect the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, and throat. These abnormalities can be benign or malignant growths that develop in the tissues of the mouth.

Mouth Lesions

A mouth lesion refers to any abnormality or sore that appears on the lips, tongue, palate, gums, or inside the cheeks. These may manifest as ulcers, white patches (leukoplakia), red patches (erythroplakia), painful sores, or lumps. Although most mouth lesions are harmless and resolve spontaneously within weeks or months, some cases can be indicative of a more serious underlying issue, such as oral cancer. 

Types of Mouth Lesions

  • Canker Sores: These small, shallow ulcers can appear on the inside of the mouth and are often painful. They typically heal within a week or two without any scarring.
  • Cold Sores: Also known as fever blisters, these lesions are caused by the herpes simplex virus. They usually appear on or around the lips and can be accompanied by pain, itching, or tingling sensations.
  • Leukoplakia: This condition causes thick, white patches to form on the mucous membranes in the mouth. While most cases are harmless, some may develop into oral cancer over time.
  • Erythroplakia: Unlike leukoplakia, which produces white patches, erythroplakia presents as flat red spots on the lining of the mouth that cannot be easily explained by other causes.
  • Oral Thrush: This fungal infection is characterized by creamy white lesions on your tongue and inner cheeks that can cause discomfort or difficulty swallowing.
  • Lichen Planus: This chronic inflammatory condition affects both skin and mucous membranes and can cause lacy-looking white lines or sores in your mouth.

Mouth lesions come in various forms with different symptoms and potential risks associated with them. Remember to consult a healthcare professional if you notice any unusual changes in your oral health.

Causes and Risk Factors for Mouth Lesions

  • Tobacco Use: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes increases the risk of developing mouth lesions. Chewing tobacco or using snuff can also have the same effect.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption is known to irritate the oral tissues and increase the likelihood of developing mouth lesions.
  • Poor Oral Hygiene: Neglecting regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups can lead to various oral health issues, including mouth lesions.
  • Viral Infections: Certain viruses like the herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause cold sores or fever blisters in the mouth, which are common types of lesions.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: A lack of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12 or iron, may weaken the immune system and make individuals more susceptible to developing mouth lesions.
  • Immunodeficiency Disorders: Conditions that compromise the immune system's ability to fight off infections can increase the risk of developing mouth lesions.
  • Trauma or Injury: Accidental biting of the tongue or cheek, harsh brushing techniques, ill-fitting dentures, or other injuries to the oral tissues can contribute to lesion formation.
  • Hormonal Changes: Some hormonal imbalances during pregnancy or menopause may be associated with an increased susceptibility to certain types of mouth lesions.
  • Certain Medications: Some medications, like chemotherapy drugs or those used for treating autoimmune disorders, can lead to changes in oral tissue that make it more prone to develop lesions.

Remember that understanding these causes and risk factors is crucial for prevention strategies and early detection if any signs occur.

Symptoms of Mouth Lesions

When it comes to mouth lesions, it's important to be aware of the common symptoms that may indicate their presence. Here are some key signs to watch out for:

  • Pain or Discomfort: Mouth lesions can often cause pain or discomfort, making eating, drinking, and even speaking difficult.
  • Redness and Swelling: Inflamed tissue around the lesion is a typical symptom. This redness and swelling can make the area sensitive to touch.
  • Ulcers or Sores: Lesions in the mouth may appear as small ulcers or sores that are painful and tender.
  • White Patches: In some cases, mouth lesions can present as white patches on the lining of your cheeks, gums, tongue, or roof of your mouth.
  • Bleeding: If you notice any unexplained bleeding from your mouth without an obvious cause (such as injury), it could be a sign of a lesion.

Diagnosis of Mouth Lesions

To determine if you have a mouth lesion and identify its underlying cause, diagnosis is essential. Your dentist or healthcare provider will typically perform a thorough examination by conducting the following:

  • Visual Inspection: They will closely examine your oral cavity for any visible abnormalities, such as ulcers or white patches.
  • Biopsy If Needed: In certain cases where the nature of the lesion is unclear, they might take a small sample (biopsy) for further testing in a laboratory setting.
  • Medical History Review: To understand potential risk factors contributing to these lesions' development better, they will review your medical history thoroughly.

Remember that self-diagnosis is not recommended when dealing with mouth lesions since many conditions can mimic each other's symptoms. Always consult with a professional.

Treatment Options for Mouth Lesions


Depending on the type and severity of the mouth lesion, the doctor may prescribe antimicrobial or antiviral medications to treat infections. Topical corticosteroids may also be used to reduce inflammation.

Oral Rinses

Using a prescribed mouth rinse can help alleviate discomfort and promote the healing of mouth lesions. These rinses often contain ingredients like antiseptics or anesthetics.

Laser Therapy

In some cases, laser treatment may be recommended to remove or shrink certain types of mouth lesions. This non-invasive procedure uses focused light energy to target and destroy abnormal cells.

Surgical Removal

If a mouth lesion is large, persistent, or suspected to be cancerous, surgical removal might be necessary. During this procedure, the lesion is excised from the oral cavity under local anesthesia.


Cryotherapy involves freezing the affected area with liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal cells or tissues in the mouth lesion.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

PDT combines a photosensitizing agent with laser light exposure to selectively destroy tumor cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues surrounding the lesion.

Remember that treatment options for mouth lesions depend on various factors, including the underlying cause and severity of the condition diagnosed by a healthcare professional.

Mouth Cancer

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is a malignancy that originates in the tissues of the mouth or throat. This disease primarily affects the lips, tongue, cheeks, and floor of the mouth.

Mouth cancer typically manifests itself through various alarming indications such as persistent sores or ulcers that do not heal within two weeks, unexplained red or white patches on the tongue or lining of the mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking clearly, sudden weight loss without apparent cause, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck area. Detecting these warning signals promptly can significantly enhance treatment outcomes for patients afflicted by this malignant disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors for Mouth Cancer

Tobacco Use

Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes and using smokeless tobacco increases the risk of developing mouth cancer. The harmful chemicals in tobacco can damage the cells in the mouth.

Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is another major risk factor for mouth cancer. Alcohol can irritate the cells lining the mouth and make them more susceptible to cancerous changes.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection

Certain strains of HPV, especially HPV16, are known to increase the risk of developing oral cancers. This viral infection is commonly transmitted through oral sex.

Sun Exposure

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds can increase the risk of lip cancer. It's important to protect your lips with sunscreen when spending time outdoors.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Neglecting proper dental care, such as brushing and flossing regularly, can lead to chronic irritation and inflammation in the mouth that may contribute to oral cancer development.

Weakened Immune System

People with weakened immune systems due to conditions like HIV/AIDS or those who have undergone organ transplants are at a higher risk for developing mouth cancer.

Remember, these are just some of the causes and risk factors associated with mouth cancer. It's essential to be aware of these factors, but also consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about your oral health.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Mouth Cancer

Recognizing the symptoms of mouth cancer is crucial for early detection and treatment. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Persistent Mouth Sores: Do you have an open sore in your mouth that doesn't seem to heal? This could be a warning sign.
  • Red or White Patches: If you notice any unusual red or white patches on your gums, tongue, or other parts of your mouth, it's essential to get them checked by a healthcare professional.
  • Difficulty Swallowing or Speaking: Mouth cancer can cause difficulty in swallowing food or liquids and may also affect speech.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss: Sudden and unexplained weight loss without changes in diet or exercise habits can be indicative of mouth cancer.
  • Lumps or Thickening of the Oral Tissues: Be vigilant about any lumps, bumps, or areas where the tissue feels thicker than usual within your mouth.

Diagnosis of Mouth Cancer

When it comes to diagnosing mouth cancer, several tests may be conducted:

  • Oral Examination: A dentist will carefully examine your entire oral cavity, including tongue, throat, cheeks, and gums, looking for any abnormalities.
  • Biopsy: A small sample of tissue will be taken from any suspicious area identified during the examination for further analysis under a microscope.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans may be performed to determine the extent and stage of the cancerous growths if detected.
  • Blood Tests: These tests help assess overall health status as well as rule out other potential causes for symptoms experienced by patients suspected of oral cancer.

Remember that only qualified healthcare professionals can provide an accurate diagnosis based on their expertise and medical knowledge.

Treatment Options for Mouth Cancer


Surgery is often the first choice of treatment for mouth cancer. It involves removing the tumor and any surrounding affected tissue. In some cases, a portion of the jaw or tongue may also need to be removed.

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can be used before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.


This treatment involves using drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. It can be given before surgery to shrink tumors, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells, or as a primary treatment for advanced cases where surgery is not possible.

Targeted Therapy

This type of therapy targets specific genes or proteins that are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells. By blocking these targets, targeted therapies can help slow down or stop the spread of mouth cancer.


Immunotherapy works by boosting the body's immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively. It can be used alone or in combination with other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Palliative Care

For patients with advanced mouth cancer that cannot be cured, palliative care focuses on providing relief from symptoms such as pain and difficulty swallowing while improving quality of life.

Clinical Trials

Participating in clinical trials gives patients access to new experimental treatments that may show promise in treating mouth cancers resistant to standard therapies.

It's important for individuals diagnosed with mouth cancer to consult with their healthcare team about which treatment options are best suited for their specific situation.


Mouth lesions and cancer are serious conditions that require prompt attention and treatment. Understanding the types, causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for early detection and successful management.

If you notice any abnormal changes in your mouth, such as sores or lumps that do not heal within two weeks, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. Regular dental check-ups can also help identify any potential issues early on.

Remember that prevention is key when it comes to oral health. Avoiding tobacco use, limiting alcohol consumption, practicing good oral hygiene, and maintaining a healthy diet can greatly reduce the risk of developing mouth lesions or cancer. Always prioritize your well-being by being aware of any changes or symptoms in your mouth. Your dentist or healthcare provider will be able to guide you through diagnosis, treatment plans, and support during this challenging time.

To learn more about the services we offer, visit Associated Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons at one of our three convenient locations. You can find our Frederick dental office at 6550 Mercantile Drive E, Suite 101, Frederick, MD 21703, our Hagerstown dental office at 1144 Opal Court, Hagerstown, MD 21740, and our Martinsburg dental office at 1007 Sushruta Dr, Martinsburg, WV 25401. You can also call us for any queries at (301) 694-0870, (301) 733-2500, or (304) 263-0991, respectively.


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