BMC’s Yawkey building doors are now closed as an entrance as part of our ongoing efforts to enhance our campus and provide you with the best clinical care.

All patients and visitors on our main campus must enter our hospital via Shapiro, Menino, or Moakley buildings, where they will be greeted by team members at a new centralized check-in desk before continuing to the hospital. We are excited to welcome you and appreciate your patience as we improve our facilities.

A type of cancer in the category of head and neck cancer, oral cancer can occur on any part of the mouth including the lips, gums, tongue, inside cheek lining, or the roof or floor of the mouth. There are several types of oral cancers, but most are squamous cell carcinomas. Often, oral cancer is discovered only after it has metastasized (spread to another location), typically the lymph nodes of the neck.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer starts in the mouth, also called the oral cavity. The oral cavity includes the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks, the teeth, the gums, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, and the roof of the mouth. There are several types of cancer that can start in the mouth, including: squamous cell carcinoma, slow-growing verrucous carcinoma, salivary gland carcinoma, and lymphomas of the tonsils and base of tongue. Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers commonly referred to as head and neck cancers, and of all head and neck cancers they comprise about 85% of that category.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

It is important to be screened annually for oral cancer; this is usually done by a dentist. Patients who notice any changes in their mouth or throat between examinations should contact their dentist or physician. Any of the following are reasons to contact a physician or dentist immediately:

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • A white or red patch anywhere in the mouth
  • A sore or lesion within the mouth that does not heal within two weeks
  • Trouble moving the tongue or jaw
  • Numbness in or around the mouth or jaw
  • Chronic hoarseness
  • Change in how dentures fit

What causes oral cancer?

Oral and pharyngeal cancer continues to pose a significant public health problem. Traditionally, head and neck cancer was considered a disease of older men who abused tobacco and alcohol. Recent studies have implicated the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) as an inciting factor in some people with oropharyngeal cancer, particularly those people under 45 years of age.

A small percentage of people do get oral cancers from no currently identified cause. It is currently believed that these are likely related to some genetic predisposition.

Departments and Programs Who Treat This Condition

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Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at Boston Medical Center consists of two distinct divisions: Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology.
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Head and Neck Cancer Program

The Head and Neck Cancer Center cares for patients with early-stage, recurrent, and aggressive head and neck cancers. Our multidisciplinary approach brings together specialists wh…
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Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Oncology Program

The OMFS Oncology team at BMC offers unique expertise for patients with tumors of the jaw, mouth, and face. Our holistic experience spans diagnosis, treatment, and reconstruction,…