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Lip Cancer - Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prognosis

Published on Mar 06, 2021 and last reviewed on Nov 25, 2022   -  4 min read


Lip cancer can occur in chronic smokers. Read this article to know more about the causes, risk factors, and treatment.

Lip Cancer - Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prognosis

What Is Cancer?

Cancer refers to a group of conditions where there is excessive abnormal growth of the cells. These abnormal cells have the power to spread or invade the other parts of the body. Cancer can occur in any region of the body. They are usually classified as benign and malignant. The malignant ones can spread rapidly than benign cancer. The prognosis is very poor in malignant cancer when compared to benign cancer.

What Is Lip Cancer?

Cancer occurring in the lower and upper parts of the lips is known as lip cancer. In some patients, lip cancer can affect various other sites in the oral cavity. The lower lip is most commonly affected than the upper lip. The self-induced cause of lip cancer is smoking. A minor surgical option can serve as a treatment plan for lip cancer. Prior treatment planning and reconstruction are necessary to improve the appearance of the lips esthetically.

What Is the Epidemiology of Lip Cancer?

Cancer occurring in the oral cavity is listed among the top ten sites for cancer involvement. Oral cancer is common in certain countries like India, Srilanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. In India, oral cancer is known to dominate more than 50% of all the known cancers. The number of cases of oral cancer is increasing every year. The condition appears in different variations in different countries. The prevalence of lip cancer tends to decrease in recent years, while the cancers in the oral cavity’s interior parts tend to increase. It is known to affect the male population at a greater level.

What Are the Causes of Lip Cancer?

There are three known causes of lip cancer. They are:

In addition to this, excessive exposure to the sun can also cause lip cancer in some patients.

What Are the Features of Lip Cancer?

In the initial stages, lip cancer appears flat. After a specific duration, it becomes raised with whitish discoloration. This whitish lesion does not heal even after a very long time. It is often accompanied by pain, tingling sensation, and numbness in and around the sites of the lips. The lesions might also be seen around the mouth. Some patients appear with a reddish ulcer or blister that might be seen along with bleeding. The lesion might be accompanied by swelling of the jaw. The associated lymph nodes near the lip cancer will have involvement and inflammation.

What Are the Risk Factors of Lip Cancer?

The various risk factors associated with lip cancer are:

  • Tongue Cancer: Prevalence of cancer in the tongue or any other site in the oral cavity can increase oral cancer risk.

  • Population: People belonging to the American population are affected more than others.

  • Aged People: The low stamina, immunity, and long-term smoking habits in older adults put them into a higher risk zone.

  • Consumption of Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can affect an individual's overall health status and dysfunction of the organs. This will result in the body’s poor metabolism and a lack of ability to fight against diseases.

  • Infections: A pre-existing infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) or any other viral infection can increase cancer risk.

  • Excessive Sun exposure: If an individual is highly prone to exposure to sunlight, including tanning beds, it is a risk factor.

  • Light Color Skin: Irrespective of race or origin, people with light color skin, tend to have insufficient melanin secretion. These people suffer a greater degree of risk.

How Is Lip Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of lip cancer requires clinical examination by the doctor. The doctor will visualize the mouth, face, neck, and lips for the signs of cancer. The smoking history of the patient also recorded, if any. The other tests for identifying lip cancer are:

  • Biopsy: In a biopsy procedure, a part of the tissue is removed from the lips as a circle. After a complete microscopic examination, the type of cancer will be detected. The progressive nature of cancer will also be estimated.

  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: CT scan is a beneficial diagnostic tool that provides images of cancer from various angles.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: MRI scan uses a strong radio wave and magnetic field to obtain detailed and precise images of the body.

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET): It is an imaging technique that interprets the function of tissues and organs. A radioactive drug is used in this procedure.

  • Complete Blood Cell Count: A blood examination of the patient is done to detect any abnormality in the blood cell count.

  • Chest X-ray: People who smoke have a higher chance of getting lung cancer in addition to lip cancer. To detect the involvement of the lung, a chest X-ray will be performed on smokers.

  • Endoscopy: Endoscopy is done in lip cancer patients because those affected by this condition might also have the involvement of cancer in the food pipe and windpipe.

What Are the Treatment Option for Lip Cancer?

The various treatment options involved in lip cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. A minor surgical procedure is carried out to remove it in the case of a small lesion or tumor. If the cancer is extensive, then the normal tissue is also removed along with the cancerous tissue. In such cases, reconstruction of the lips might be necessary. A cosmetic surgeon will perform lip reconstruction surgery. The other recommended methods for lip cancer patients are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy.

What Is the Prognosis of Lip Cancer?

The prognosis of lip cancer depends on the location, tumor, and severity. If the condition is diagnosed at an earlier stage, the patient has a more than 5 years of survival rate. This is estimated to be approximately 83.7%. While evaluating the prognosis, one should consider other factors such as age, health, and tobacco usage.

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Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Symptoms of Early Lip Cancer?

Early signs of lip cancer can be examined by the dentist during an oral examination. Initially, it appears flat. Then, it is raised with whitish discoloration, which does not heal for a long time. The lesions are also seen around the mouth. The symptoms of lip cancer are:
- Pain in the lips.
- Irritation or ulcer in the mouth.
- Bleeding from the lips.
- Swelling in the jaw or mouth.
- Discoloration of the lip.
- Associated lymph nodes will have inflammation.
Kindly seek urgent medical help if you have severe bleeding and unusual symptoms.


What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lip Cancer?

In the early stages, lip cancer rarely causes pain. It is followed by the signs and symptoms like a sore, lesion, blister, ulcer, or lump on the mouth and a red or white patch on the lip, which usually appears flat initially and that does not go away easily.


How Is Lip Cancer Treated?

Lip cancers are treated by surgical removal or with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In case of a small lesion, a surgical procedure is carried out. If it has reached the advanced stage, then the normal tissue surrounding the cancerous tissue is also removed. Radiation therapy may be aimed at the lymph nodes in your neck or can be used after surgery. In the advanced stage, if the lip cancer spreads to other areas of the body, anticancer drugs or chemotherapy may be used to reduce signs and symptoms.


Can Lip Cancer Heal by Itself?

Early lip cancers usually do not have any symptoms and heal on their own. When the symptoms are present, the most common finding is a sore on the lip that will not heal. If you have difficulty eating and have a sore that does not heal and produces pus, please seek medical care.


Does Lip Cancer Spread?

If left untreated, a lip tumor can spread to nearby structures and other areas of the body, such as the skin around the mouth and tongue. It can also spread to lymph nodes in the neck, mandible, and distant parts of the body. If cancer spreads, it becomes much more difficult to cure.


Do I Have a Cold Sore or Lip Cancer?

Lip cancer, a cancerous lesion, often looks like cold sores (blisters due to Herpes infection) when they appear. Lip cancer usually does not heal the same as cold sores. If you can see an open sore on the lips, they may be a sign of cancer. When there is a recurrent cold sore, it is not a sign of cancer.


Do Dry Lips Indicate Lip Cancer?

Dry lips are commonly seen when we are totally tired with dehydration or overexposed to the sun, and lips show noticeable dryness along with the skin. So dry lips are not caused only due to the dry weather but also due to an allergic reaction, infection, or something more serious that can make your lips feel dry and uncomfortable. Actinic cheilitis, a precancerous condition, can also turn one or both lips dry and scaly.


Are Lip Swelling Related to Lip Cancer?

Lip swelling occurs due to a variety of disorders, diseases, and conditions, which could range from mild to severe. The swelling in the lip can be a result of infection, inflammation, and cancer. The lip swelling is not dangerous and is curable. But a lip cancer appears as a sore on the lip that is difficult to heal.


How Does Lip Cancer Occur?

The common ways to get lip cancer are smoking or using tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or chewing tobacco. Heavy alcohol consumption, prolonged exposure to direct sunlight that is both natural and artificial, including tanning beds, a pre-existing infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) may increase the occurrence of lip cancer.


Can Lip Cancer Be Cured?

Lips are the most prominent and visible part of the body. As the lips are prominently located and allow for early detection of the lesions, the occurrence of the lesion can be easily felt and seen, which helps in the early diagnosis of any condition. So lip cancer is the most curable malignancy in the head and neck region.


What Is the Epidemiology of Lip Cancer?

Lip cancer is commonly seen in certain countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), lip cancer is most commonly seen in males with light skin above 50 years of age. The number of cases of oral cancer is increasing every year. Lip cancer appears in different variations in different countries.


How Can We Diagnose Lip Cancer?

A complete examination of your lip, mouth, face, and neck by the doctor is necessary. Tell your doctor about the signs and symptoms, if any. A tiny sample of your lip is taken for biopsy to determine the presence of cancer and the progressive nature of cancer. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), or positron emission tomography (PET) can be used to determine if lip cancer has spread.

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Last reviewed at:
25 Nov 2022  -  4 min read




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