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Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)

General Information About Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer

Oral cavity cancer and oropharyngeal cancer are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the mouth or throat. Most oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers start in squamous cells (thin, flat cells) that line the oral cavity and oropharynx. Cancer that forms in squamous cells is called squamous cell carcinoma.

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 third of the tongue.
  • The soft palate (the back, soft part of the roof of the mouth).
  • The side and back walls of the throat.
  • The tonsils.
Anatomy of the pharynx; drawing shows the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx. Also shown are the nasal cavity, oral cavity, esophagus, trachea, and larynx.

Anatomy of the pharynx (throat). The three parts of the pharynx are the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx.

Lesions can form in the mucous membranes of the oral cavity and oropharynx. These lesions include the following:

These lesions may become cancer but this does not happen often.

Men are more than twice as likely as women to have oral cavity cancer or oropharyngeal cancer and die from it.

Date last modified: 2016-02-19

Date last modified: 2016-02-19

Date last modified: 2016-02-19

Date last modified: 2016-02-19

Last updated: 2016-03-16

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