Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

If you don't find the answers on this page, please don't sit quietly wondering… ask us.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer, also referred to as head and neck cancer, is any cancer that develops in tissues of the mouth (known as the oral cavity) or the throat area at the back of the mouth (known as the oropharynx). Over 90 percent of oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips.

How common is oral cancer?

Oral cancer accounts for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in the United States, with approximately 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Unfortunately, about 8,000 patients die each year from oral cancer because their cancer is diagnosed in a later stage and has spread to other parts of the body. Please click here for more oral cancer facts.

What are the risk factors for oral cancer?

Heavy tobacco and alcohol use are the biggest risk factors. Other risk factors include: the human papilloma virus (HPV), an oral pre-cancer lesion, betel quid use, ultraviolet light and excessive sun exposure, as well as certain genetic syndromes. Certain drugs that are prescribed to prevent organ transplant rejection or to treat immune diseases can also play a role in the development of oral cancer. Click here for more detailed information on risk factors.

What are the symptoms for oral cancer?

Some of the most common oral cancer symptoms include

  • A mouth sore that doesn't heal
  • A lump or thickening which can be felt inside the mouth
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
  • Bleeding in the mouth
  • Unexplained loose teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue, lower lip or chin
  • Difficulty wearing dentures (poor fit)
  • A lump in the neck
  • Chronic hoarseness
  • Chronic unexplained ear ache
  • Weight loss

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosis involves a medical examination of the mouth and neck including an assessment of risk factors. Testing will likely include biopsy of tissue or cells and imagining such as x-rays, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound.

Is pain an early sign of oral cancer?

Not usually. Pain associated with oral cancer typical appears once the cancer has progressed to a late stage. If you have pain, don’t ignore it. Have your doctor or dentist assess it to determine the cause.

What is the standard treatment for oral cancer?

Oral cancer treatment almost always involves surgery. Every surgical case is different and requires a personalized treatment approach. Minor surgery or more extensive tissue removal of surrounding tissue may be required depending on the extent and anatomic location of cancer growth. Treatment following surgery may include radiation therapy or chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, physical and occupational therapies, as well as focused pain management.

Do you have doctors who specialize in my type of cancer?

Yes. Our cancer specialists have extensive expertise in all forms of head and neck cancers from common oral cancers to the rarest types. Our physicians are at the forefront of cancer care. They specialize in advanced surgical techniques and post-surgical treatment protocols. Our scientists are developing and testing new methods to treat oral cancer and reduce cancer pain. Visit our Care Team to learn more about our experts.

How do I make an appointment at the NYU Oral Cancer Center?

A patient assistant is available Monday through Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm EST.
 Call 212-998-9835 or request an appointment online.

Can I be part of research studies?

Yes. Research is a big part of who we are at The NYU Oral Cancer Center. We frequently enroll volunteers to participate in clinical research. To find out if you are a suitable candidate for our current clinical trials, click here.