An Overview of Lip Cancer

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of This Oral Cancer

woman looking at sore on bottom lip
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Lip cancer is a type of oral cancer that occurs when malignant cells develop in the lips. Symptoms can be nonspecific and similar to that of less serious conditions. So, as with any disease, early detection is key. It is important to report anything out of the ordinary to your doctor. 

The most common symptom of lip cancer is a sore, lesion, or ulcer usually on the lower lip, that does not heal. Some people also experience painful and/or bleeding sores. 

A sore can develop on the outside of the lips or on the inner fold. Lip cancer develops more often on the lower lip, but can occur on the upper lip as well.

Your doctor will visually examine the sore or lesion. They will also want to know how long you have had it, if it has become worse, and if you suspect anything may have caused it. Eating new foods, biting your lip, medications, and many other things can cause lip sores.

Ultimately, only a biopsy can rule out lip cancer. Under local anesthesia, your doctor can biopsy the area in-office. Pain is minimal and usually subsides in one to two days. 

Advanced or complex cases may require general anesthesia or sedation. And children who require biopsies may be given general anesthesia, too.

General Facts About Cancer

Cancer can start any place in the body. It begins when cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. This makes it hard for the body to work the way it should and causes problems in the part of the body where the cancer started.

Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body. For instance, cancer cells in the lung can travel to the bones and grow there. (When cancer cells spread, it’s called metastasis.) When lung cancer spreads to the bones, it’s still called lung cancer. To doctors, the cancer cells in the bones look just like the ones from the lung. It’s not called bone cancer unless it started in the bones.

Some cancers grow and spread fast. Others grow more slowly. They also respond to treatment in different ways. Some types of cancer are best treated with surgery while others respond better to drugs (chemotherapy). Often two or more treatments are used to get the best results. Your doctor will want to find out what kind of cancer you specifically have to identify which treatment will work best.