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


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.

Signs and Symptoms, and Diagnostic and Staging Tests

Oral cavity cancer may cause any of the following signs and symptoms. Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • 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, or lining of the mouth.
  • Bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth.

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

Tests to diagnose and stage oral cavity cancer may include the following:

  • Physical exam and history.
  • X-ray.
  • MRI of the head and neck.
  • CT scan.
  • PET scan.
  • Biopsy.

See the General Information section for a description of these tests and procedures.


Treatment of oral cavity cancer in children may include the following:

  • Surgery for benign tumors.
  • Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy for malignant tumors.

Salivary Gland Tumors

Salivary gland tumors form in the salivary glands, which are small organs in the mouth and throat that make saliva. Most salivary gland tumors form in the parotid glands (just in front of and below each ear) or in the salivary glands under the tongue or near the jaw.

In children, most salivary gland tumors are benign (noncancer). Some salivary gland tumors are malignant (cancer), especially in young children. Malignant tumors sometimes form after treatment with radiation therapy for leukemia or solid tumors.

Signs and Symptoms

Salivary gland tumors may cause any of the following signs and symptoms. Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • A lump (usually painless) near the ear, cheek, jaw, or lip, or inside the mouth.
  • Fluid draining from the ear.
  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth widely.
  • Numbness or weakness in the face.
  • Pain in the face that does not go away.
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