Lip Cancer: Symptoms, Causes & Common Treatments

family dentist Gainesville VA

Lip cancer refers to the abnormal growth of cells in the tissues of the lips, and it can occur on either the upper or lower lip. Understanding the symptoms and causes of lip cancer is crucial for early detection and prompt treatment.

Here are 17 things to help educate you on lip cancer.


Persistent Lip Sores: One of the most common symptoms of lip cancer is the presence of a sore on the lips that does not heal within a few weeks.

Lip Thickening: The affected area of the lip may become thicker or develop a lump or bump.

Red or White Patches: You may notice red or white patches on your lips that do not go away.

Pain or Numbness: Lip cancer can cause pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation in the lips.

Bleeding: Unexplained bleeding from the lips, especially if it is not related to an injury, can be a sign of lip cancer.

Swelling: Swelling in the lips that persists for an extended period should raise concerns.

Difficulty in Moving the Lips: Lip cancer can make it challenging to move your lips or mouth comfortably.

Loose Teeth: In advanced cases, lip cancer can affect your dental health, leading to loose or damaged teeth.


Sun Exposure: Prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays is a significant risk factor for lip cancer, particularly for the lower lip.

Tobacco Use: Smoking and using smokeless tobacco products increase the risk of developing lip cancer.

Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption, especially when combined with tobacco use, can elevate the risk.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Certain strains of HPV are associated with an increased risk of lip cancer.

Age: Lip cancer is more common in older adults, with the risk increasing with age.

Gender: Men are more likely to develop lip cancer than women.

Weakened Immune System: Individuals with compromised immune systems due to conditions like HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk.

Genetics: Some genetic factors may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to lip cancer.

Previous Skin Cancer: If you’ve had skin cancer, especially on the face, you may be at a higher risk of developing lip cancer.

What to Do if You Think You Might Be Affected:

If you suspect you may have lip cancer or notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is essential to take prompt action. Here are a few steps you should take for early detection.

Consult a Healthcare Professional: Schedule an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist. They will conduct a thorough examination of the affected area.

Biopsy: If a suspicious lesion is found, a biopsy may be performed to determine if it is cancerous. A small tissue sample will be taken for analysis.

Imaging Tests: If lip cancer is confirmed, imaging tests such as CT scans or an MRI may be ordered to determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.

Treatment: Treatment options for lip cancer may include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments, depending on the stage and location of the cancer.

Follow-up Care: After treatment, regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare team are crucial to monitor for any signs of recurrence and manage side effects of treatment.

Lifestyle Changes: To reduce the risk of recurrence and improve overall health, consider making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, practicing sun safety by using lip balm with SPF, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

Maintaining proper oral health and scheduling regular visits to your dentist is very important as your dentist and oral hygienists are trained to look for potential signs of oral cancer. Early detection and prompt treatment of lip cancer can significantly improve the chances of successful outcomes. If you have concerns about lip cancer or notice any concerning symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider can provide you with personalized guidance and a treatment plan tailored to your specific situation.

Treatment for Lip Cancer

Treatment for lip cancer involves various medical approaches, depending on the cancer’s stage, location, and the patient’s overall health. The primary goal of treatment is to remove or destroy the cancer cells while preserving as much of the lip’s function and appearance as possible.

Here’s an overview of some of the treatment options for lip cancer.


Surgery is often the first-line treatment for lip cancer, particularly in the early stages. The extent of the surgical procedure depends on the tumor’s size and location.

Different surgical techniques may be employed including:

Lip Resection: In cases where the tumor is small and confined to a specific area of the lip, a local excision may be performed. This involves removing the cancerous tissue and a margin of healthy tissue to ensure complete removal.

Lip Reconstruction: When a significant portion of the lip is removed, reconstructive surgery is necessary to rebuild the lip. This can involve various techniques, including local tissue flaps, grafts from other parts of the body, or synthetic materials.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to target and destroy cancer cells. It may be used as the primary treatment or in combination with surgery.

Radiation therapy is often recommended when the tumor is large, has spread to nearby lymph nodes, or when surgery would result in extensive functional or cosmetic changes.

Chemotherapy: While chemotherapy is not typically the main treatment for lip cancer, it may be used in cases where the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. Systemic chemotherapy involves using drugs that circulate throughout the body to kill cancer cells.

Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapy is a newer approach that targets specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer cell growth. It is used in some cases of advanced lip cancer, especially when other treatments have not been effective.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs stimulate the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. This treatment is being studied for its potential in lip cancer, particularly in cases where other treatments have failed.

Lymph Node Dissection: If lip cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, a lymph node dissection (removal) may be necessary to prevent further spread of the disease. This procedure can be done at the same time as the primary surgery.

The choice of treatment depends on several factors, including the cancer’s stage, the patient’s overall health, and their preferences. Early-stage lip cancer typically has a high cure rate, and the prognosis is generally favorable. However, more advanced cases may require more aggressive treatments, which can impact lip function and appearance.

When Was Your Last Dental Checkup?

Scheduling and keeping regular dental appointments can help in early detection of lip cancer. If it’s been awhile since you’ve had a dental checkup – you can schedule an appointment with Gainesville Dental Associates today. It might be the best thing you do for your health all year.