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Unusual Cancers of Childhood (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Unusual Cancers of the Head and Neck


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

Oral Cavity Cancer

Oral cavity cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the mouth. Most tumors in the oral cavity are benign (not cancer). The most common type of oral cavity 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 cancer of the oral cavity and oropharynx (the part of the throat at the back of the mouth) 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 cavity cancer is increased by the following:

  • Tobacco use: Using any tobacco product, including smokeless tobacco, increases the risk of oral cavity 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 cavity cancer is more likely in people who have had other childhood tumors and were treated with radiation therapy to the mouth.
  • 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 cavity 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.
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