Oral and oropharyngeal cancer

Oral and oropharyngeal cancer


Oral cancer is cancer found in the oral cavity (the mouth area). Oropharyngeal cancer is cancer found in the oropharynx (the throat area at the back of the mouth).

The oral cavity includes:

  • The lips, teeth, and gums
  • The front two-thirds of the tongue
  • The lining inside the lips and cheeks (buccal mucosa)
  • The floor of the mouth (under the tongue)
  • The top of the mouth (hard palate)
  • The small area behind the wisdom teeth

The oropharynx includes:

  • The back one-third of the tongue
  • The soft palate
  • The tonsils
  • The back of the throat

Our approach

Highlights of the oral and oropharyngeal cancer treatments and services include:

  • The most advanced microvascular reconstruction of mandibular and extensive tongue defects.
  • Innovative TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) and other minimally invasive procedures that remove tumors of the mouth and throat while speeding recovery and preserving speech, swallowing and other key functions. This is a new, innovative approach.
  • Radiation therapy, a cancer treatment that uses targeted, high-energy X-rays to destroy or stop the growth of cancer cells. The physicians combine radiation therapy with chemotherapy to increase the chances of organ preservation.
  • A dedicated oncology nurse navigator who connects patients with the therapies and support they need to manage issues resulting from their disease and treatment.

Multidisciplinary Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment

Within the first several days of a visit, the head and neck cancer multidisciplinary team at Northwell Health will conduct comprehensive tests and develop a personalized treatment program.

Each oral and oropharyngeal cancer diagnosis is unique, so the team meets regularly to discuss patient treatment at weekly multidisciplinary conferences where members of the head and neck oncology multidisciplinary team share ideas and best practices for delivering collaborative patient care. The specialists review each treatment phase to constantly improve care and ensure treatment milestones are reached. From diagnosis through treatment, each patient is in the capable hands of experts every step of the way.


The main causes of this condition are:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use

Other causes may include the following:


The following are the most common symptoms. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • A lip or mouth sore that does not heal
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of mouth
  • A lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat
  • Unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth area
  • Swelling of the jaw or neck
  • Pain in the ear
  • Change in voice
  • A chronic sore throat
  • Feeling as if something is caught in the throat
  • Pain or difficulty in swallowing or chewing
  • Cough

The symptoms of oral and oropharyngeal cancers may resemble other disorders or medical problems. Always consult a health care provider for a diagnosis.


Tumors can develop anywhere in the oral cavity and oropharynx (or the back of the mouth where it connects with the throat). Some tumors are benign (noncancerous), some may be precancerous (a condition that may become cancerous), while others may be cancerous. Different types of cancer may develop in different areas of the mouth and throat.


In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for oral cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx may include one or more of the following:

  • Biopsy - A procedure in which tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) - A noninvasive procedure that takes horizontal, or axial, images of the brain or other internal organs to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary X-ray.
  • Ultrasonography - A diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - A noninvasive procedure that produces 2-dimensional view of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord. If additional imaging is needed, a doctor may order a PET scan, which can determine where the cancer started.
  • Barium swallow - Because cancer of the esophagus may occur with oral cancer, a doctor may order this test, often called an upper GI series, to look for cancer of the esophagus. The patient will drink a chalky solution while X-rays are taken.
  • Endoscopy - A small fiberoptic scope can be used to examine the oropharynx and oral cavity. The scope can also be used to obtain biopsies. 

Once a diagnosis is made, the cancer will be staged (to determine the extent of the disease) before a treatment plan is established.

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