What is Lip Cancer?

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  • Written By: Tess C. Taylor
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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Lip cancer is a condition of the lips or soft tissue surrounding the mouth in which there are malignant or tumor cells present. Generally, lip cancer is found in the epithelial cells, which are the upper most sensitive levels of skin found around the mouth on either the upper or lower lip. In more serious cases, the cancer may also involve the deeper layers of the mouth including the soft tissues, muscular or nerve cells in the face, gums and neck.

In many cases, the cancer presents as a small lump or tumorous section of the lip that will not heal or go away on its own. Lip cancer can also start as a subtle discoloration or change in the reddish-pink lip tissue itself. At the onset of these symptoms, a proper cancer diagnosis can be provided by an oncologist, or a doctor who specializes in cancers of the body.

Lip cancer is a form of head and neck cancer that can be effectively treated if caught early enough in the process. The presence of cancer is most often discovered during a routine visit to the doctor or dentist, but it can also be something that the patient himself notices as his facial appearance changes. Any changes in the lips or the face should be examined by a qualified physician or oncologist immediately.


In most cases, cancer of the lips is treated with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery when needed. The cancerous cells are eradicated and removed to stop the spread of the malignant cells to other parts of the mouth, face and neck. This treatment is combined with improved lifestyle and oral hygiene habits and follow-up medical care.

It is not certain what causes many cancers, including lip cancer. However, it is known that certain environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors play a key role in the development of skin cancers. Some of the factors that are known to increase the likelihood of the development of cancer in humans are alcohol and drug intake, chemical and hazardous environmental exposure, genetic predisposition, poor nutrition, smoking and lack of proper exercise.

The risk for lip cancer increases with poor lifestyle and behavioral choices such as use of tobacco and alcohol or the habitual nervous chewing of the lips and inner mouth tissue. It is also noted the risk for lip cancer increases after the age of forty-five. Preventing cancer of the lips can be as simple as reducing these behaviors and taking care of one’s health.


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Post 5

@indigomoth - I do wonder how much lip cancer is actually related to skin cancer though. I mean, if there's a part of the body that people don't think about protecting from the sun, it's the lips. Men probably wouldn't even consider doing anything about them, since you can't put sunscreen on them and they don't wear those new lipsticks and glosses that advertise their SPF.

I'm not sure if mouth and lip cancers are the same as skin cancers though, or if a skin cancer that happened to be on the lips would just be considered skin cancer.

I guess the kind of cancer matters, particularly when it comes to the treatment.

Post 4

@KoiwiGal - Well, it might be that the chewing leads to more chemicals getting into the body, but it might also be that the chewing itself leads to cancer.

That might seem a bit harsh, but a lot of the things I've heard can lead to mouth cancer seem to be because of chronic damage to the cells of the mouth. If you damage them over and over and force them to regenerate over and over, I guess sometimes you end up with lip or mouth cancer.

For example, there's research to suggest that people who drink their tea too hot all the time are at much higher risk of mouth cancer. That's just because they burn themselves over and over.

People who use mouthwash are at risk as well. It might kill bacteria, but it can be pretty tough on your mouth too (and it's basically alcohol which is listed here as a risk factor).

Basically, if it hurts, don't do it, or do it as little as possible, anyway. Seems like sensible advice to me.

Post 3

I can see why the combination of chewing your lip and smoking could lead to lip cancer. You'd be giving the chemicals in the cigarettes more access to the inner layers of your body, when they would normally not get past the outer skin.

I can also see why they'd go together. I've often thought one of the reasons I was so disposed to smoking (although I've quit now) was because I was a thumb-sucker to a late age.

People who have an oral fixation of some kind, whether it is gum, or drinking from a bottle or chewing their nails or whatever, will appreciate smoking because it's another way to express that need to fiddle. Lip chewing probably falls under that category too, although I don't do it myself.

I suggest trying to replace the habit with sipping water. It's one of the few healthy alternatives I've found that helps.

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