Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can change the way you talk and eat. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help.

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About Oral Cancer

Oral cancer occurs when cancer forms in or around your mouth (such as on your lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, and/or upper or lower jaw). It can cause speech problems if it changes the movements or size of any part of your mouth. You can also have problems chewing and swallowing.

Signs of Oral Cancer

Some signs of oral cancer may be

  • a red or white patch or lump in your mouth for more than a month;
  • a sore in your mouth that bleeds easily or does not heal;
  • numbness or swelling of the tongue or other areas of the mouth;
  • loose teeth;
  • pain in the mouth or ear—or pain when swallowing; and
  • problems chewing, swallowing, or moving your tongue and jaw.

Causes of Oral Cancer

Risks of oral cancer include

  • smoking;
  • using smokeless tobacco, such as plug, leaf, and snuff;
  • drinking a lot of alcohol
  • too much sun exposure on your lips; and
  • exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV).

Testing for Oral Cancer

Dentists and doctors are often the first to notice signs of oral cancer. The doctor may take a sample of the tissue in your mouth, called a biopsy. Your doctor tests the tissue to see if it is cancerous. Saliva testing is another way to check for oral cancer.

You may see an SLP before or after your cancer treatment. Before cancer treatment, the SLP can listen to how you talk. During or after your cancer treatment, the SLP will look at how you move your mouth, speak, eat, and drink.

Treatments for Oral Cancer

There are different ways to treat oral cancer. You may have surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these. Your doctor will talk about all options and how they will affect you.

An SLP can help you get used to the changes in your mouth after treatment. The SLP can help you learn how to make sounds more clearly.

Treatment for swallowing problems may include changing the types of food you eat. You also may learn new head positions or exercises to help you swallow more easily.

Sometimes after surgery, the SLP works with doctors or dentists to find different ways to rebuild parts of your mouth that were removed during surgery. This is another way to help you speak and swallow more easily.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.

To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.

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