Oral Cancer Health Center

Almost all oral cancers begin in the flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and lips. These cancers are called squamous cell carcinomas.

Oral cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor. They enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into all the tissues of the body. The cancer cells often appear first in nearby lymph nodes in the neck. The cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues.

Tumors in the mouth or throat can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors:

Benign tumors:

  • are rarely a threat to life
  • can be removed and usually don't grow back
  • don't invade the tissues around them
  • don't spread to other parts of the body

Malignant tumors:

  • may be a threat to life
  • can grow back after they are removed
  • can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs
Review Date: 
March 27, 2012
Last Updated:
July 2, 2013