In 2009 in the United States, 30,676 cases of oral cavity and oropharynx cancer, and 24,900 cases of laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer were diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute 123. Although certain early symptoms are characteristic, many other health problems can cause symptoms similar to mouth and throat cancer, so it's important to see your doctor for an appropriate diagnosis.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Certain general symptoms are associated with mouth and throat cancer. These include trouble breathing or swallowing, a persistent sore throat, a lump or sore that does not heal, pain or voice changes. For example, you might become hoarse or you might notice volume changes in your voice.
Mouth or Oral Cavity
Diseases and Disorders of the Tongue
Red or white patches that develop on the tongue, around the teeth and gums, or on the inside of the cheeks are common symptoms of oral cavity or mouth cancer. The jaw may swell, and unusual pain or bleeding in the mouth may occur. Teeth may be loose, and dentures may no longer fit properly. Sores in the mouth or on the lips may occur. Numbness in the lips or around the chin may also be a symptom of mouth cancer.
- Red or white patches that develop on the tongue, around the teeth and gums, or on the inside of the cheeks are common symptoms of oral cavity or mouth cancer.
- The jaw may swell, and unusual pain or bleeding in the mouth may occur.
If cancer develops at the back of the nose, in the nose or in the sinuses, you may have trouble breathing through the nose. If the cancer develops in the oropharynx, breathing through the nose or mouth may be a problem. As the tumor grows, breathing becomes more difficult.
Signs of Lip Cancer
Cancer in the oropharyngeal area, the area at the back of the throat, may cause trouble with swallowing. As the tumor grows, a mechanical blockage of the throat may occur.
Glands in the area of the mouth make saliva, the fluid that keeps the mouth moist and helps digest food. If cancer starts in the salivary glands of the mouth, certain symptoms may occur. You may experience swelling around the chin or jaw; dry mouth; numbness; paralysis of the facial muscles; and pain. Swelling may also occur elsewhere in the mouth or throat, leading to problems with breathing and swallowing.
- Glands in the area of the mouth make saliva, the fluid that keeps the mouth moist and helps digest food.
- If cancer starts in the salivary glands of the mouth, certain symptoms may occur.
Ear pain may be an early symptom of either mouth or throat cancer. An earache that does not go away, particularly with antibiotic treatment or ear drops, should be discussed with the doctor. Ringing in the ears may also occur.
Bleeding through the nose or mouth, chronic sinus infections, headaches and pain in the eyes may indicate mouth or throat cancer. Problems occur when tumor growth physically blocks normal pathways in the nose, mouth and throat or when growth presses on nerves.
Diseases and Disorders of the Tongue
Signs of Lip Cancer
Early Signs of Squamous Cell Mouth Cancer
Early Signs and Symptoms of Throat Cancer
Jaw Cancer Symptoms
5 Things You Need to Know About Blurred Vision and Neck Pain
Early Signs of Tongue Cancer
Bone Cancer of the Tibia Symptoms
Long-Term Effects of HPV
Early Bone Cancer Symptoms
- National Cancer Institute: Oral Cancer
- National Cancer Institute: Throat (Laryngeal and Pharyngeal) Cancer
- National Cancer Institute: Head and Neck Cancers
- Osazuwa-peters N, Adjei boakye E, Rohde RL, et al. Understanding of risk factors for the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection based on gender and race. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):297. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-36638-z
- Cleveland Clinic. Oropharyngeal cancer. Updated January 29, 2013.
- Mark AM. Oral and throat cancer: What you should know. J Am Dent Assoc. 2019;150(4):324. doi:0.1016/j.adaj.2019.01.034
- American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers. Updated November 27, 2017.
- Chowdary SD, Sekhar PC, Kattapagari KK, Mani Deepthi CH, Neelima D, Reddy BVR. A study to assess expression of human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 in oral squamous cell carcinoma using polymerase chain reaction. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2018;22(3):347-352. doi:10.4103/jomfp.JOMFP_139_17
- American Cancer Society. Survival rates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer. Updated January 9, 2020.
- Lee HM, Okuda KS, González FE, Patel V. Current perspectives on nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2019;1164:11-34. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-22254-3_2
- American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer. Updated September 24, 2018.
- Department of Health and Senior Services. Oral/pharyngeal Cancer. February 25, 2010 from
- MedlinePlus. Cancer - Throat or Larynx. February 25, 2010 from
- National Cancer Institute. Head and Neck Cancer: Questions and Answers. February 25, 2010 from
- National Cancer Institute. Nasopharyngeal Cancer Treatment. February 25, 1010 from
- National Cancer Institute. Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment. February 25, 2010 from
- National Cancer Institute. What You Need To Know About Cancer of the Larynx. February 25, 2010 from
- New England Journal of Medicine. Case-Control Study of Human Papillomavirus and Oropharyngeal Cancer. February 25, 2010 from
Pat Stanfill Edens writes on health, cancer and management, and has more than 125 publications to her credit. She is an internationally recognized health care management consultant, with more than 35 years of experience. She writes for reference books, texts, journals and the Web.