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Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer Screening (PDQ®)

General Information About Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the mouth and throat.

Oral cavity cancer forms in any of these tissues of the oral cavity:

Anatomy of the oral cavity; drawing shows the lip, hard palate, soft palate, retromolar trigone, front two-thirds of the tongue, gingiva, buccal mucosa, and floor of mouth. Also shown are the teeth, uvula, and tonsil.

Anatomy of the oral cavity. The oral cavity includes the lips, hard palate (the bony front portion of the roof of the mouth), soft palate (the muscular back portion of the roof of the mouth), retromolar trigone (the area behind the wisdom teeth), front two-thirds of the tongue, gingiva (gums), buccal mucosa (the inner lining of the lips and cheeks), and floor of the mouth under the tongue.

Oropharyngeal cancer forms in any of these tissues of the oropharynx:

  • The middle part of the pharynx (throat) behind the mouth.
  • The back one third of the tongue.
  • The soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth).
  • The side and back walls of the throat.
  • The tonsils.

Most oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers start in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells that line the lips, oral cavity, and oropharynx. Cancer that forms in squamous cells is called squamous cell carcinoma.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer:

The number of new cases of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer and the number of deaths from oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer varies by race and gender.

Over the past ten years, the number of new cases and deaths from oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer slightly increased in white men, but remained the same for white women. The number slightly decreased for both black men and black women.

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer is more common in men than in women. Although oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer may occur in all adults, it occurs more often in older adults who are 65 years and older.

France, Brazil, and parts of Asia have much higher rates of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer than most other countries.

The number of new cases of oropharyngeal cancer caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has increased. One kind of HPV, called HPV 16, is often passed from one person to another during sexual activity.

Different factors increase or decrease the risk of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Anything that decreases your chance of getting a disease is called a protective factor.

For information about risk factors and protective factors for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer, see the PDQ summary on Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer Prevention.

Date last modified: 2016-06-15

Date last modified: 2016-06-15

Date last modified: 2016-06-15

Date last modified: 2016-06-15

Last updated: 2016-10-26

Source: The National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ®) Cancer Information Summaries (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq)