Lip cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the squamous cells of the lips and mouth. Early symptoms may include a non-healing sore or lump on the lips or mouth. You can find more information below.
What is lip cancer?
Lip cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the skin of the lips and can occur anywhere along the upper or lower lip, but is most common in the lower lip. Lip cancer is considered a type of oral cancer . Most lip cancers are squamous cell carcinomas , meaning they start in thin, flat cells in the middle and outer layers of the skin called squamous cells.
Risk factors include excessive sun exposure and tobacco use. You can reduce your risk of lip cancer by protecting your face from the sun with a hat or sunscreen and quitting smoking.
Lip cancer treatment usually requires surgery to remove the cancer. For minor lip cancers, surgery can be a minor procedure with minimal impact on your appearance.
More extensive surgery may be required for larger lip cancers. Careful planning and reconstruction can preserve your ability to eat and speak normally, and can also provide a satisfactory appearance after surgery.
Lip cancer causes
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research , the main cause is alcohol and tobacco use. However, it is still not clear what exactly causes lip cancer.
Generally, cancer begins when changes (mutations) develop in cell DNA. A cell’s DNA contains instructions that tell the cell what to do. The changes tell the cell to start multiplying uncontrollably and to continue living when healthy cells die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that can invade and destroy normal body tissue.
Who is at risk?
Factors that can increase your risk of lip cancer include:
- Any use of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco
- fair skin
- Excessive sun exposure to your lips
- weak immune system
Lip cancer symptoms
Lip cancer symptoms include:
- Flat or slightly raised whitish discoloration of the lip
- Non-healing wound and pain of the lip
- tingling, soreness or numbness of the lips or the skin around the mouth
When should you see a doctor?
If you have symptoms that worry you and do not go away, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Lip cancer diagnosis
Tests and procedures used to diagnose lip cancer include:
- Physical exam: During a physical exam, your doctor will examine your lips, mouth, face, and neck to look for signs of cancer. Your doctor will also ask you about your symptoms.
- Taking a tissue sample for testing: During the biopsy, your doctor will remove a small sample of tissue for laboratory testing. In the laboratory, by analyzing body tissue, a doctor (pathologist) can determine whether cancer is present, the type of cancer and the level of aggressiveness found in cancer cells.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests can be used to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the lip. Imaging tests; may include computed tomography , magnetic resonance imaging , or positron emission tomography.
Lip cancer treatment
Treatments for lip cancer include:
Surgery is used to remove lip cancer and an edge of healthy tissue that surrounds it. The surgeon then repairs the lip to restore normal eating, drinking and speaking function. Scar reduction techniques are also used.
For minor lip cancers, repairing the lip after surgery may be a simple procedure. However, for larger lip cancers, skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeons may be required to repair the lip. Reconstructive surgery may involve moving tissue and skin from another part of the body to the face.
Surgery may also involve removing cancerous lymph nodes in the neck.
Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams such as X-rays and protons to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy for lip cancer may be used primarily or after surgery. The radiation may be aimed only at your lip, or it may be directed at the lymph nodes in your neck.
Radiation therapy for lip cancer often comes from a large machine that precisely focuses energy beams. But in some cases, radiation may be placed directly on your lip and left in place for a short time. This procedure, called brachytherapy , allows doctors to use higher doses of radiation.
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy for lip cancer is sometimes used in conjunction with radiation therapy to increase the effectiveness of treatment. In advanced cases of lip cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be used to reduce symptoms and make you more comfortable.
targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug therapies focus on specific weaknesses found in cancer cells. By blocking these weaknesses, targeted drug treatments can cause cancer cells to die. Targeted drug therapy is often combined with chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer. Your body’s disease-fighting immune system may not attack cancer because cancer cells produce proteins that help them hide from immune system cells. Immunotherapy works by interfering with this process. For lip cancer, immunotherapy may be considered when the cancer has progressed and other treatments are not an option.
coping and support
A cancer diagnosis can change your life forever. Every person must find a way to cope with the emotional and physical changes that cancer brings. But when you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to know what to do at first.
Here are some ideas to help you cope:
- Get enough information about cancer to make a decision about your treatment: Ask your doctor about your cancer, including your treatment options and, if desired, your prognosis. The more you learn about cancer, the more confident you can be in making treatment decisions.
- Keep your friends and family close: Keeping close relationships strong will help you cope with your cancer. Friends and family can provide the practical support you’ll need, such as helping you if you’re in the hospital, and they can serve as emotional support when you’re feeling overwhelmed by cancer.
- Find someone to talk to: Find a good listener who is willing to listen to you and talk about your hopes and fears. This could be a friend or family member. The understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy, or cancer support group can also be helpful.
Can lip cancer be prevented?
You can do the following to reduce your risk:
- Stop using tobacco: If you use tobacco, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Using smoked or chewed tobacco exposes the cells in your lips to dangerous chemicals that cause cancer.
- Avoid the midday sun: For many people, the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plan your activities at other times of the day.
- Even on cloudy days, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30: Apply sunscreen generously and reapply every two hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Avoid tanning beds: Tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of lip cancer.
Lip cancer complications
If left untreated, a lip tumor can spread to the mouth, tongue, and distant parts of the body. If cancer spreads, it becomes much more difficult to treat.
In addition, treatment for lip cancer can have many functional and aesthetic consequences. People who have had surgery to remove large tumors on their lips may have trouble speaking, chewing, and swallowing after surgery.
Surgery can also cause deformation of the lips and face. However, working with a speech pathologist can improve speech. Reconstructive or cosmetic surgeons can rebuild the bones and tissues of the face.
Some of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation are:
- hair loss
- Weakness and fatigue
- numbness in hands and feet
- severe anemia
- weight loss
- skin dryness
- Throat ache
- Taste change in the mouth
- Inflamed mucous membranes in the mouth (oral mucositis)