Oral Cancer

[ en Español]

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

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About Oral Cancer

You can get cancer on your lips, upper or lower jaw, tongue, gums, cheeks, or throat. This is oral cancer. It can cause speech problems if it changes how any part of your mouth moves. 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
  • problems chewing, swallowing, or moving your tongue and jaw

Causes of Oral Cancer

You may be at risk for oral cancer if you:

  • Smoke
  • Use smokeless tobacco, like plug, leaf, and snuff
  • Drink a lot of alcohol

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 cancer.

You may see an SLP before or after your surgery. The SLP can listen to how you talk before surgery. This helps the SLP discuss how to help you afterwards. After surgery, the SLP will look at how you move your mouth and test how you make sounds. The SLP will also test how well you can eat and drink.

Treatments for Oral Cancer

You may need surgery to remove the cancer. You may get radiation or chemotherapy before or after surgery. Your doctor will talk about these options and how they will affect you.

An SLP can help you get used to the changes in your mouth after surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. The SLP can help you learn how to make sounds more clearly. Some people sound like their speech comes out of their nose after surgery. This will happen if there is damage to your soft palate.

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

Sometimes the surgeon will remove part of your mouth. This space needs to be filled to help your speech and swallowing. The SLP works with doctors or dentists who find different ways to rebuild those areas.

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.