Oral cancer

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Non-cancerous tumours and conditions of the mouth

A non-cancerous (benign) tumour of the mouth is a growth that does not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. A non-cancerous condition of the mouth is a change to mouth cells, but it is not cancer. Non-cancerous tumours and conditions are not usually life-threatening.

There are many types of non-cancerous tumours and conditions of the mouth.


A wart is a small round or oval growth. Oral warts can occur in the mouth or on the lips. They are caused by types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts can also spread from the hands to the mouth. Genital warts can spread to the mouth through oral sex. Warts may go away on their own or may be treated with special medicine applied directly to the wart or surgery (cryosurgery or electrosurgery).

Canker sores

A canker sore (aphthous ulcer) is a sore covered by a yellowish white membrane with a reddish ring around it. The exact cause of these ulcers is unknown. They tend to come back (recur) but heal quickly – usually in 1 to 2 weeks. They are often treated with corticosteroids or creams applied directly to the sore.

Cold sores

A cold sore (herpes labialis) is an oral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes a cyst or bubble-like swellings and sores (ulcers) on the oral mucous membrane and the skin around the mouth. Cold sores usually heal within a week but they may recur. Antiviral medications may be used to treat this infection.


Candida is a type of fungus that is normally found in the mouth. Sometimes an overgrowth of candida can cause an infection called thrush (candidiasis). This can happen in people who have weakened immune systems, are taking antibiotics or use steroids for long periods of time. Candidiasis is treated with antifungal drugs.


A torus is a bony growth that can form in the roof of the mouth (called torus palatinus) or in the lower jaw beside the tongue (called torus mandibularis). These often don’t require treatment unless they interfere with eating or wearing dentures.


Mucocele are soft swellings that look like cysts or bubbles and usually occur on the gums or roof of the mouth, inside the lower lip or under the tongue. They are often caused by accidentally biting the lower lip, which damages a salivary gland and causes saliva to build up. They often go away without treatment but if not they can be removed with surgery.


Fibromas are round, smooth, firm lumps that occur in the mouth. They are most common in the inner linings of the cheeks (the buccal mucosa) and lips (the labial mucosa). They can be removed with surgery.

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that can affect the tongue, gums, mouth and skin. Oral lichen planus is associated with a small number of oral cancers. Improved mouth hygiene and local steroids are used to treat oral lichen planus.

Frictional hyperkeratosis

Frictional hyperkeratosis is a whitish thickening of the inner mouth lining (mucosa) that may result from constant rubbing. It is often seen on the inside surface of the cheek, lips, tongue or gums. This condition is treated by removing the cause of friction, such as dentures, or making any rough teeth smooth.

human papillomavirus (HPV)

A type of virus that causes abnormal tissue growth (warts) and other changes to cells.

There are over 100 types of HPV. Most types of HPV cause harmless warts on the hands, fingers, feet and even the face. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, are associated with an increased risk of several different types of cancer, including cancers of the cervix, oropharynx, anus, penis and vulva.


A procedure that uses extreme cold (liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide) to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.

Also called cryoablation, cryosurgical ablation or cryotherapy.


A procedure that uses a strong electric current to cut through tissue, to destroy abnormal cells or tissues (such as cancer cells) or to seal off blood vessels to stop bleeding.

Electrosurgery is divided into 3 groups based on what it does. For cutting, the electricity heats the tissue to cut through it. Cutting can be used to remove a tumour. For fulguration, the electricity is given as pulses or sparks to heat and destroy tissue. Fulguration can be used to destroy cancer cells over a wide area. For dessication, the electricity heats and dries out the tissue so it forms a mass. Dessication can be used to seal off blood vessels during surgery.