Lip Cancer


Lip cancer is a type of oral cancer that develops when abnormal cells grow out of control and form lesions or tumors on the lips. Cancerous cells may form in the lips, mouth, tongue, cheeks, sinuses, throat and hard and soft palates.

An estimated 40,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Individuals may help prevent lip cancer by avoiding the use of all types of tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption, and reducing their exposure to both natural and artificial sunlight.


Signs of lip cancer include:

  • Bleeding or pain in the lips
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • A red or white patch on the lip
  • A sore, lesion, blister, ulcer or lump on the mouth that doesn’t go away

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase an individual’s risk of developing lip cancer:

  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Smoking cigarettes or using tobacco products
  • Tanning
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Having light-colored skin
  • Being male
  • Being older than 40 years of age
  • Having human papillomavirus (HPV)

Left untreated, lip cancer may spread to other areas of the mouth and distant parts of the body, making it much more difficult to cure.

When to Consult a Doctor

Patients experiencing signs or symptoms of lip cancer should schedule an appointment with their physician.

Diagnosing Lip Cancer

During an initial visit, the physician will examine the patient’s lips and other parts of the mouth to search for abnormalities and identify potential causes.

The physician will use a gloved finger to feel inside the patient’s lips and use mirrors and lights to look inside the mouth. He or she may also examine the neck to check for signs of swollen lymph nodes.

During the visit, the physician will ask about the patient’s health history, family history of disease, past illnesses, smoking and alcohol history, medical and dental treatments and any medication they may be taking.

If the physician suspects lip cancer, they may perform a biopsy. The sample will then be examined in a pathology laboratory. If the biopsy results confirm lip cancer, the physician may order additional tests to determine how far the cancer has spread; tests may include CT scan, MRI scan, chest X-ray, PET scan, completed blood count (CBC), and endoscopy.

Treatment Options

Lip cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy. Treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer, how far the tumor has spread, the size of the tumor and the patient’s general health.

Small tumors may be removed during surgery. The surgeon may need to remove all tissue affected by the cancer and reconstruct the lip.

Large tumors may be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, either before or after surgery. Individuals who smoke should quit before beginning treatment to help improve treatment outcomes.

After Treatment

Surgery may cause:

  • Difficulty with speech, chewing and swallowing
  • Disfigurement of the lip and face

Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation include:

  • Hair loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Change in taste
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness in the hands and feet
  • Severe anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Dry skin
  • Sore throat
  • Infection
  • Inflamed mucous membranes in the mouth