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Unusual Cancers of the Head and Neck


    See the PDQ summary on adult Thyroid Cancer Treatment for more information.

    Oral Cancer

    Oral cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the oral cavity. Most tumors in the oral cavity are benign (not cancer). The most common type of oral cancer in adults, squamous cell carcinoma (cancer of the thin, flat cells lining the mouth), is very rare in children. Malignant tumors in children include lymphomas and sarcomas.

    The number of new cases of oral cancer in teenage girls and young women has increased since the mid-1990s with a similar increase in cases of oral human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.

    Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Diagnostic and Staging Tests

    The risk of oral cancer is increased by the following:

    • Tobacco use: Using any tobacco product increases the risk of oral cancer. Use of smokeless tobacco may cause mouth cancer. Changes in the texture, color, and shape of tissue inside the mouth have been seen in more than half of all teenagers who use smokeless tobacco.
    • Previous radiation therapy: Oral cancer is more likely in people who have had other childhood tumors and were treated with radiation therapy to the oral cavity.
    • Having certain diseases or conditions, such as:
      • Fanconi anemia.
      • Dyskeratosis congenita (a rare bone marrow disorder that affects red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets).
      • A mutation in connexin genes (changes the way proteins that connect cells are made).
      • Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
      • Epidermolysis bullosa (an illness that causes the skin to be easily injured and causes painful blisters).
      • Xeroderma pigmentosum.
      • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

    Oral cancer may cause any of the following signs and symptoms. Check with your child's doctor if you see any of the following problems in your child:

    • A sore in the mouth that does not heal.
    • A lump or thickening in the oral cavity.
    • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or lining of the mouth.
    • Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth.

    Other conditions that are not oral cancer may cause these same symptoms.


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