Oromandibular Cancer

Oromandibular cancer is a term used for cancers that involve the lower jaw (mandible). In almost all cases, this happens when a tumour from one of the oral cavity subsites invades into the mandible.

However, there are times when tumours can arise directly from the bone. The oral cavity subsites include:

  • Lips
  • Buccal mucosa
  • Oral tongue
  • Hard palate
  • Floor of mouth
  • Upper and lower alveolar ridge
  • Retromolar trigone

Of these subsites, cancers of the floor of mouthalveolar ridge and retromolar trigone are the most likely to invade into the mandible, mainly because they are located immediately next to the mandible.

 Read below to learn about Oramandibular Cancer:


Causes of Oromandibular Cancer

Causes of Oromandibular Cancer

As with most cancers, doctors can’t tell you with certainty what caused your oromandibular cancer.

It’s a combination of genetic predisposition and factors in your environment.

  • Tobacco:This is by far the most common factor contributing to oromandibular cancer. Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes and using chewing tobacco greatly increase your chance of getting any oral cancer.
  • Alcohol:Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is also very strongly associated with getting oral squamous cell cancers. Moreover, if you both smoke and drink heavily, the risk more than doubles.
  • Betel nut: This is the seed of the areca tree. It is often chewed by people from Southeast Asia and is known to cause oral cancer.

Other factors that can increase your chance of getting oral cancer include:

  • Marijuana
  • Bad dental hygiene
  • Viruses
  • Food and nutrition
  • Genetic factors
Understanding Oromandibular Anatomy

Understanding the Anatomy  The mandible is the lower jawbone. It is made up of fused right and left halves. The parts of the mouth (or oral cavity) from which tumours most commonly invade into the mandible include:

  • Floor of mouth:This is the part in the front or side of the mouth that you can see if you lift your tongue up to the roof of the mouth. It goes from the gingiva (gums) on the inside of the mandible (lower jawbone) just to the under surface of the tongue. The lingual frenulum separates the floor of the mouth into a left and right side.
  • Lower alveolar ridge:These are the gums, or the pink mucosa that is attached to the mandible.
  • Retromolar trigone: This is the lining on each side of the mouth that is attached to bone in the back corner of the mouth behind the very last lower tooth. It is a thin piece of “mucosa” that sits over the part of the lower jawbone (known as the ramus of the mandible).


Signs & Symptoms of Oromandibular Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Oromandibular Cancer

For cancers in the mouth, you, your dentist or your general doctor can see or feel something abnormal in most cases. This is different from cancers in other parts of the head and neck, which can remain hidden for some time.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Loose teeth or dentures that don’t fit correctly: This happens if the tumour gets into the tooth sockets or the bones in which the teeth are rooted. This is particularly concerning for oromandibular cancer.
  • Numbness (for example in the lower teeth or lower lip/chin area): This means that the cancer cells have gotten into nerves that allow you to feel. The main nerve responsible for this when dealing with oral cancer runs just inside the lower jawbone, and a branch even runs in the middle of the jawbone and comes out under the skin of your chin. It is known as the mental nerve when it enters the lip, but it is designated as the inferior alveolar nerve while it travels through a canal in the bone.
  • Difficulty opening the mouth: This can happen if the cancer gets into any of the muscles that help to open and close the mouth. This is called trismus.
  • Painful sores in the mouth: Most commonly, an oral cancer will start as a painful sore in the mouth. In some cases, a dentist or dental hygienist will see a sore in the mouth that you didn’t even realise was there. In general, a patch or sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal after a few weeks should be evaluated in more detail by a specialist.
  • A patch in the mouth: A red patch (erythroplakia) in the mouth that lasts for more than a few weeks is more likely to be cancer than a white patch. However, any lesion that doesn’t go away needs to be biopsied to determine whether it is cancer. The topic of white patches in the mouth (leukoplakia) and dysplasia (abnormal cells that are not cancer) can get complicated, and you should discuss this with a specialist.
  • Difficulty speaking: This is called dysarthria, and it can occur when a tumour changes the way your tongue moves.
  • Recurrent bleeding from the mouth:This can happen when the cancer makes a hole in some part of the mouth (this is called an ulcer) or if cancer cells are accidently rubbed off while brushing your teeth or eating certain foods.
  • Bad breath: In rare circumstances, when cancer cells start to become necrotic, the dead cells can lead to a bad smell from the mouth. This is called halitosis.
  • Pain or difficulty with swallowing: This can happen when tumours get large and either get in the way of eating or involve the muscles and nerves of swallowing.

In some cases, a dentist or oral surgeon will see something in the mouth, remove it and a week later get the report that it is a cancer.

 If a lesion was removed and later found to be cancer: In this case, you should still see a specialist in head and neck cancers because it is important to review the pathology in detail to see if any more treatment is needed. Some questions to review are:

  • What type of cancer was it?
  • How big was it?
  • How deeply did it invade?
  • Was it completely removed with a rim of normal tissue around it? (This is known as having “clear margins.”)

In rare cases, the first sign of an oral cancer could be a lump in the neck.

 A lump in the neck: This means that the tumour has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. This is less common for oral cancers than other types of cancers in the head and neck because the primary cancer is usually the main problem.

But don’t jump to any conclusions. You could have one or more of these symptoms but NOT have an oral cancer. There are several non-cancerous causes of the same symptoms. That’s why you need to see a specialist.

What to Expect at Your Doctors Visit

Step 1: History

First, your head and neck specialist will take a thorough history of your health and address any specific concerns you may have.

Your doctor might ask questions such as:

  • How long has the problem been there?
  • Is it getting worse, better or staying the same?
  • Does it come and go?
  • Have you tried anything to make it better?
  • Is it painful?
  • Do you have numbness or tingling anywhere in your face or mouth?
  • Do you have any lumps or bumps in your neck?
  • Are you losing weight?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions?
  • Have you had any surgeries in the past?
  • What medications do you take? And do you have any allergies?
  • Have you ever been exposed to radiation in the head and neck?
  • What do you (or did you) do for a living?
  • Do you have a family history of cancer?

 Step 2: Physical Exam

Next, your doctor will examine you. Typically, if you’re seeing a specialist in head and neck disorders, you will get a thorough physical examination focused on the area of concern. Your doctor will see how wide you can open your mouth and then look and feel inside your mouth. The doctor is likely to feel around very thoroughly, especially against the bone. Knowing whether the tumour is fixed to the bone will be an important part of treatment and reconstructive recommendations.

You should also expect the doctor to:

  • Feel your neck thoroughly and carefully to check for any lumps or bumps
  • Look inside your ears
  • Look inside the front of your nose
  • Check your cranial nerves by asking you to move your face, stick your tongue out, lift your shoulders, follow his or her fingers around with your eyes, do some simple hearing tests and test your sense of touch all over your face

Your doctor might even put a camera in through your nose to look at the back of your throat and your vocal cords.

 Step 3: Reviewing Tests

After getting your history and performing a physical exam, your doctor will review any imaging, laboratory work and pathology results you may have already had. Be sure to bring all of these with you to your appointment. Bring actual discs of any scans you’ve had, as well as any reports of those scans. If you are seeing a head and neck cancer specialist after a lesion was removed by a non-cancer specialist, you need a thorough review of the pathology to discuss whether additional treatment is necessary. Try to obtain the actual glass slides that were prepared by the pathologist with the specimen taken during your biopsy procedure so your doctor can conduct a complete review. You might need more tissue removed or further treatment.

 Step 4: Recommendations

Finally, your doctor will make recommendations about your next steps. This will likely include reviewing some of the studies you’ve already had done or ordering more tests. Once your doctor has all the necessary information, you should be given a preliminary stage and discuss treatment plans.

If the tumour is very large and is putting your breathing at risk, your doctor might recommend you undergo a tracheotomy, which is a breathing tube placed into the front part of your neck directly into your windpipe.

Also, if you are having difficulty getting enough nutrition by mouth because of a tumour, your doctor might recommend a feeding tubeThis will help ensure that you are able to undergo the treatment that you will need to beat the cancer.

Diagnosing Oromandibular Cancer

Diagnosing Oromandibular Cancer

Getting to a diagnosis begins with a history and physical examination. If the symptoms haven’t been present for very long, or if the history and physical examination make the doctor less suspicious that your lesion is cancer, your doctor might try some medications and rehabilitation before jumping to a diagnosis of cancer.

At some point, if your doctor is not certain of a diagnosis, and if symptoms aren’t getting better (and definitely if symptoms are getting worse), your doctor should raise the possibility of starting a cancer work-up. Like most cancers in the head and neck, this will include some combination of biopsy and imaging tests, which is the term that doctors use to refer to X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc.

If you came to a specialist after having something small removed from your mouth and found it was cancer only afterwards, your doctor might skip some of the tests and jump to close follow-up or additional treatment. Be sure to bring all the reports and images from any prior treatment with you to your appointment with your head and neck cancer specialist.


Imaging refers to radiologic studies, or scans, that create pictures of the structures inside your head and neck. In general, for small tumours that are easily evaluated on physical examination (especially those in the front of the mouth), imaging might not be necessary. For larger tumours, or tumours in locations in the mouth that are difficult to examine, your doctor will probably order some sort of imaging to get more information about the tumour location and possible spread to regional lymph nodes.

An important reason to get a scan for oral cavity tumours is to see if there is any evidence of spread into the jawbones. Spread into the jawbones will influence what treatment your doctor recommends for you.

For oral cancers, if imaging is required, your doctor will most likely start with a computed tomography (CT) scan with contrast. Other tests might include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Other tests might include jaw X-rays (Panorex), Dentascans or Cone Beam CT scans. These can help determine the extent of tumour invasion into the jawbones from the cancer.


biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue to examine under a microscope to see if it is cancerous. At some point, you will need a biopsy of the suspicious lesion in your mouth (or a mass in your neck).

Fortunately, almost all tumours in the mouth can be biopsied in the office with a little numbing medicine (either a spray or a tiny injection or both). Just keep your mouth open and stay still. It will only take a few seconds to do the biopsy. After a piece of the lesion is removed, you will probably apply pressure with a bit of gauze to stop any tiny amount of bleeding that will result from the biopsy. The bleeding usually stops after a few minutes, or your doctor might dab it with a chemical to stop the bleeding.

In some cases, your doctor might take you to the operating room to perform a surgical biopsy.

The most common ways to do a biopsy inside the mouth include:

  • Incisional oral biopsy: This is a biopsy in which your doctor will take a piece of the suspicious lesion without removing it all. He or she must be sure to get deep enough to make a good diagnosis.
  • Punch biopsy:This is just another way to perform an incisional biopsy. Your doctor will use a tool called a punch forceps, which makes a quick snip to remove a piece of the suspicious area in your mouth.
  • Excisional oral biopsy: In this technique, the whole area of concern is removed. Typically, if the diagnosis is unknown, it is better to do an incisional biopsy to find out what the diagnosis is, and then determine how much normal tissue needs to be removed around the lesion.
  • Brush biopsy: This is often used by dentists, and they basically rub a few cells off the surface of a suspicious lesion. This is not ideal for diagnosing oral cancer because it doesn’t get into deeper layers of tissue. However, it can give some information and lead to a diagnosis of cancer.

The biopsy report is extremely important. Sometimes a doctor or dentist who cares and wants to help you will remove something that looks abnormal and send it off to a pathologist; unfortunately, the pathology report may be missing some important information, such as the grade of tumour, how deep it goes, whether it is endophytic, exophytic or ulcerated and whether there is a rim of normal tissue around the cancer. All these factors need to be evaluated either after a biopsy or after a more definitive removal of the cancer. Ask your doctor about the CAP Protocols, which is a standard way for pathology doctors to report results of their analysis.

 Neck biopsy

If there is also a lump in the neck, your doctor might decide to biopsy that as well. There are a few different ways to do a biopsy of the neck:

  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy: The most common and easiest way to biopsy is fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB), in which a tiny needle is placed into the tumour and some cells are drawn out through a syringe. The pathology doctor, known as a cytologist or cytopathologist, will then immediately look at the cells under the microscope and let your doctor know if there were enough cells to make a diagnosis. Several “passes” might be done to increase the likelihood that there are enough cells to make a diagnosis. The final diagnosis may take a few days to come back, so be patient.


By Feel” FNAB Ultrasound Guided FNAB CT-Guided FNAB
When Your Doctor Might Use This Technique If the lump can be easily felt by your doctor If your doctor thinks it will be difficult to get the needle directly into the lump with certainty If your doctor doesn’t think he or she will be able to get into the tumour by feel or with ultrasound guidance
What to Expect Your doctor will feel the lump and place a tiny needle directly into it to extract some cells. Your doctor will use a gentle probe on your face or neck, identify the tumour with the ultrasound and then watch the needle go directly into the tumour on the ultrasound machine. You will be placed into a CT scanner, and a few low-dose CT scans will be performed—first to localise the tumour and then to make sure the needle that is placed is within the tumour. There is new technology known as fluoroscopic CT scanning in which the radiologist can quickly take a few scans without leaving the room in order to quickly insert the needle into the right place.

 Core Biopsy: Core biopsy is an alternative to fine needle aspiration. A core biopsy is done in the same way as an FNA biopsy, but it uses a larger needle and removes a core of tissue from the tumour rather than just a few cells. The likelihood of false positives and false negatives is much lower with a core needle biopsy than with a fine needle biopsy.

 Open neck biopsy: An open biopsy involves making an incision over the tumour and removing a piece or all the tumour to make a diagnosis. An open biopsy of a neck mass is performed through an incision over the lump, and either a piece (incisional open neck biopsy) or the entire lump (excisional open neck biopsy) is removed to make a diagnosis. Except in a few special circumstances (such as if the tumour is likely a lymphoma or if other methods of diagnosis have not worked), this method should not be used to find the diagnosis of a neck mass.

 Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB): A sentinel lymph node biopsy is a new type of lymph node biopsy being used for some cancers of the head and neck. They are mainly used in skin cancers, such as melanomas and Merkel cell cancers, but some doctors are using them in oral cancers as well.

Cancer cells spread from a tumour to regional lymph nodes by traveling through a channel of lymph and making a stop in the first lymph node along the way—the sentinel node. In SNLB, special techniques are used to figure out where that first lymph node is located. Then, that lymph node is removed and analysed.

If there is cancer in that lymph node, then the rest of the lymph nodes in the region are removed. If there is no cancer in that lymph node, then your doctor will closely watch the area but save you from undergoing additional treatment that might not be necessary.

For oral cancer, the advantages and disadvantages of SLNB are not very clear and are still being studied.

Type of Oromandibular Cancer

Determining the Type of Oromandibular Cancer

Only after a pathologist analyses some cells or actual pieces of tissue from the lesion will your doctor be able to tell you if you have cancer. Your doctor and pathologist should specialise in oral cancers because some benign (non-cancerous) lesions can look like cancer on a small biopsy.

If you do have cancer, it will probably be squamous cell carcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinoma: This is a cancer that starts from abnormal cells on the surface layer of the lips or mouth lining. More than 85 percent of mouth cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

Other epidermoid cancers (meaning cancers that start from the lining of the mouth) include:

  • Carcinoma in situ (also called severe dysplasia):This is really an early stage of squamous cell carcinoma. It is called carcinoma in situ when there are cancerous cells on the tissue lining the oral cavity but they have not invaded past the outermost layer of tissue. These should be removed completely, before they start invading (penetrating more deeply).
  • Verrucous carcinoma: This is a type of squamous cell carcinoma that has a better prognosis because it is less likely to spread. It should be treated as any other squamous cell carcinoma.

But there are other cancers that can start in the mouth, which include:

  • Salivary gland cancers:There are minor salivary glands located under the lining of the mouth. Therefore, cancers in this region can be glandular malignancies referred to as adenocarcinomas, including mucoepidermoid carcinomas, and adenoid cystic carcinomas. See Salivary Gland Cancer for more information. In rare instances, salivary gland cancers may grow inside the bone itself.
  • Lymphoma: The mouth also has lymphoid cells under the surface. Therefore, lymphoma could in rare cases appear as a lump in the mouth.
  • Mucosal melanoma: These cancers come from skin cells (melanocytes) that give skin its colour. In rare cases, melanoma can be found in the lining of the mouth, nose and/or throat.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma: This cancerous tumour is usually associated with AIDS. While it usually presents on the skin, it can be found with a similar appearance in the mouth. It looks like a purple lesion in the mouth filled with blood vessels.
  • Osteogenic sarcoma (also called osteosarcoma):This is a type of bone cancer that typically begins in the long bones of the arms and legs, though it can also occur very rarely in the jaw. It is the most common type of bone cancer among children and adolescents.
Determining the Grade and Stages of the Tumour

Determining the Grade of the Tumour

Squamous cell cancers of the oral cavity are typically given a grade by a pathologist after looking at the cells under a microscope. Grade means that the tumour falls on a scale from well differentiated (Grade I) to poorly differentiated (Grade IV). Even though there are some studies that show grade is important in predicting outcome, as of now, grade does not really factor heavily into most doctors’ treatment decisions, nor your prognosis. Determining the Stage of the Cancer The final step before discussing treatment options is a determination of the stage of the cancer. With all cancers of the head and neck, in Australia it is mandatory for doctors to use the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual (7th Ed) to determine the stage based on three factors.  

Factors that go into determining the stage of the cancer
T Characteristics of the main tumour mass
N Status of the lymph nodes in the neck (i.e., evidence of cancer spread)
M Status of cancer spread to parts of the body outside of the head and neck

At first, you will be given a clinical stage based on all the available information.  Clinical staging (cTNM) is determined from any information your doctor might have about how extensive the cancer is BEFORE starting any treatment. Stage is determined based on your doctor’s physical exam, imaging studies, laboratory work and biopsies. Classification of clinical stage is described using the lower-case prefix c (e.g., cT, cN, cM). If there is surgical removal of the cancer as part of your treatment, a pathologist will analyse the tumour and any lymph nodes that may have been removed. You will then be assigned a pathologic stage. Pathologic staging (pTNM) provides more data. Classification of pathology stage is described using the lower-case prefix p (e.g., pT, pN, pM). This may or may not differ from the clinical stage. There are also several other lower-case prefixes that might be used in the staging of your cancer.

  • The subscript y(yTNM) is used to assign a cancer stage after some sort of medical, systemic or radiation treatment is given (posttherapy or Postneoadjuvant stage). It is typically combined with either a clinical or pathologic stage. For example, ycT2N0M0 indicates that after some sort of non-surgical therapy, the new clinical stage is T2N0M0.
  • The subscript r(rTNM) is used when the tumour has recurred after some period of time in which it was gone. This is called Retreatment Classification Stage. Your doctor will use all the available information to assign you a retreatment stage.

 T stage: The main tumour mass Based on a physical examination and review of any imaging, your doctor should be able to give you a T stage that falls within one of the following categories.  

Tx The doctor is unable to assess the primary tumour.
T0 The doctor is unable to find the primary tumour.
Tis Carcinoma in situ (or severe dysplasia); this means there are cancer type cells, but they have not yet invaded deep into tissue. This is more of a pre-cancer lesion.
T1 The tumour is 2 centimetres or less in greatest dimension.
T2 The tumour is more than 2 centimetres but less than or equal to 4 centimetres in greatest dimension.
T3 The tumour is more than 4 centimetres in greatest dimension.
T4a This is moderately advanced local disease. The tumour clearly invades into the skin of the face, through the upper or lower jawbone, into the nerve that allows you to feel the teeth and chin area or into the floor of the mouth. Note: A little bit of bone or tooth socket invasion from a tumour of the gums does NOT make it a T4a cancer.
T4b This is very advanced local disease. This stage is assigned if the tumour is invading into the masticator space, pterygoid plates, base of the skull and/or encases the carotid artery.

 N stage: Spread of cancer to the lymph nodes in the neck Next, your doctor will use all the available information and assign you an N stage. This is based on the assessment as to whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck.  

Nx The neck lymph nodes cannot be assessed.
N0 There is no evidence of any spread to the nodes.
N1 There is a single node, on the same side of the main tumour, that is 3 centimetres or less in greatest size.
N2a Cancer has spread to a single lymph node, on the same side as the main tumour, and it is more than 3 centimetres but less than or equal to 6 centimetres in greatest dimension.
N2b There are multiple lymph nodes that have cancer on the same side as the main tumour, but none are more than 6 centimetres in size.
N2c There are lymph nodes in the neck on either the opposite side as the main cancer or on both sides of the neck, but none are more than 6 centimetres.
N3 There is spread to one or more neck lymph nodes, and the size is greater than 6 centimetres.

 M stage: Spread of cancer outside the head and neck Finally, based on an assessment on the entire body, you will be assigned an M stage.  

M0 No evidence of distant (outside the head and neck) spread.
M1 There is evidence of spread outside of the head and neck (i.e., in the lungs, bone, brain, etc.).

 Your cancer stages After TNM staging, your doctor can assign a cancer stage based on the following chart.  

Stage 0 Tis N0 M0
Stage I T1 N0 M0
Stage II T2 N0 M0
Stage III T3 N0 M0
T1 N1 M0
T2 N1 M0
T3 N1 M0
Stage IVA T4a N0 M0
T4a N1 M0
T1 N2 M0
T2 N2 M0
T3 N2 M0
T4a N2 M0
Stage IVB Any T N3 M0
T4b Any N M0
Stage IVC Any T Any N M1

 Your clinical stage Once the diagnostic tests are completed, before deciding what type of treatment you are going to undergo, you should be given a clinical stage that will look like the example below.  

Site Oral Cavity
Subsite Floor of Mouth
Type Squamous Cell Carcinoma
cT cT4a
cN cN2b
cM cM0
cStage cIVa

 * The lower-case subscript c indicates that this is a CLINICAL STAGE, the stage assigned based on all information available to your doctor before starting treatment. After surgery, you should get a pathologic stage of your tumour. It will look almost like the clinical stage you received before starting treatment, but notice the “p” that indicates the stage group is based on an analysis of the entire tumour, with or without lymph nodes, under a microscope by a pathologist. In many cases, the pathologic stage will be the same as the clinical stage, but sometimes it will change. You should consider the pathologic stage to be a more accurate assessment of your tumour at the time you start treatment. After surgery, and after the pathologist has evaluated all the tumour that was removed, you should be given a pathologic stage that looks something like this:  

Site Oral Cavity
Subsite Floor of Mouth
Type Squamous Cell Carcinoma
pT pT4a
pN pN2b
cM cM0
pStage pIVa

 * The lower-case subscript p indicates that this is a PATHOLOGIC STAGE, the stage assigned after tumour removal and confirmation of cancer by a pathologist.

Deciding a Treatment Plan

Deciding on a Treatment Plan

Before starting treatment, your doctor will make sure that the following steps are completed.

 Pre-treatment evaluation

  • A full history and physical examination, including a complete head and neck exam (mirror and fibreoptic exam if needed)
  • An evaluation by the members of a head and neck cancer team
  • A biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of cancer
  • Imaging of the lungs to check for spread, if needed
  • Imaging of the primary tumour and the neck with CT and/or MRI
  • Maybe a PET-CT for advanced cancers
  • A dental evaluation, with or without jaw X-rays, when necessary
  • Examination under anaesthesia with endoscopy if necessary
  • Nutrition, swallowing and speech therapy when necessary
  • Pre-treatment medical clearance and evaluation of medical conditions

Then, your doctor will recommend a course of treatment for you, depending on several factors. Depending on whether the cancer has spread or not, there are three general therapeutic options to consider:

  • Surgical removal(with or without reconstruction)
  • Radiation(a few different types)
  • Medications(chemotherapy and biologic medications)

Surgery is the recommended treatment when possible in almost all cases of oral cancer. Also, if a positive margin (rim of tissue around the tumour that should be normal tissue but has cancer cells in it) is found after removal of the cancer, all efforts should be made to re-resect and get to negative margins (rim of normal tissue around the tumour).

The treatment recommendations for oral cancers do not really vary by subsite, though there are certain subtle differences for lip cancer. The surgery your doctor recommends does vary depending on the location of the cancer as well as the stage. You should have an extensive discussion with your care team about different surgeries that might be required for your cancer.

Also, the reconstruction that your doctor recommends will change depending on what is removed.

Below are the recommended treatment options for oral cancer, depending on your T and N stages.


T1-2, N0

For cancers in this category, treatment options are:


Surgical removal of the cancer, with or without neck dissection, depending on location of the tumour and how thick the tumour is (preferred treatment)

Surgical removal of the cancer with or without a sentinel lymph node biopsy. A neck dissection may also be performed depending on the results of the biopsy.


The treatments above should then be followed by either no additional treatment, radiation alone, surgery again, or chemotherapy with radiation, depending on what is found in surgery.

Radiation alone as primary treatment is also an option. This may be followed by either no additional treatment or surgery, depending if there is left over disease from the initial radiation.

T3, N0 or


T1-3, N1-3 or

T4a, Any N

The initial treatment is surgical removal of the cancer with neck dissection(s). Then, either no additional treatment, radiation or chemotherapy and radiation will be recommended, depending on findings in the surgery. Certain factors that might guide what additional treatment is required will be features such as:


Positive margins (the presence of cancer cells at the edge of the resection that was performed)

Spread of cancer beyond the lymph nodes in the neck

T3 or T4 tumours based on pathologic evaluation

N2 or N3 disease in the neck lymph nodes

Cancerous lymph nodes in the lower part of the neck (Level IV), or toward the back portion of the side of the neck, behind the big neck muscle called the sternocleidomastoid (Level V)

Invasion into or around nerves

Tumour inside blood vessels


T4b, any N or


Unresectable neck disease or

Unfit for surgery

In cases that are very advanced, or in patients who are extremely sick, an extensive discussion with your doctors should be undertaken.
Determining Your Prognosis

Determining Your Prognosis

Your prognosis is a prediction of the outcome of your disease. What is the risk of succumbing to the cancer or the risk of its coming back? These are the big questions on most people’s minds after receiving a diagnosis of oral cancer. In general, doctors know there are several characteristics of the tumour that can tell you something about your chances of being cured.

The following aspects of the cancer may affect your prognosis.


Stage This is the most important factor that affects your chances of being cured.
Spread to Lymph Nodes This goes along with stage, but even without other factors, if there is spread to lymph nodes in the neck, it’s a worse chance of cure, especially if there is evidence of growth of cancer outside of the lymph node.
Tumour Margins The ability to completely remove the tumour can be a very important factor that will indicate whether you will be cured or not.
Depth of Invasion How deep the tumour goes beyond the surface can impact the chance of cure.
Spread into Local Structures Spread into large nerves, vessels, lymphatics or even the skin of the cheek might make your prognosis worse.

It is very difficult to discuss prognosis without understanding all the details of your cancer, and this is a conversation you’re better off having in person with your doctor. To give you a percentage chance of cure is difficult because cancer research looks at all sorts of different types of cancers and may include patients from long ago.

In general, for patients with cancer of the floor of the mouth, studies have shown the following:


Estimated Disease-Specific Survival at Five Years Estimated Disease-Specific Survival at Ten Years
Floor of Mouth Cancer Floor of Mouth Cancer
Stage I 73% 53%
Stage II 60% 44%
Stage III 36% 26%
Stage IV 30% 20%

Estimated Disease-Specific Survival is the percentage of people with a specific cancer who are alive at a given time point, such as five years after diagnosis. It excludes people who may have died from a disease other than their cancer. It is probably the best estimate we have in these large national databases as to the prognosis of a cancer at each stage.

For patients with cancer of gums and other locations in the mouth (excluding the tongue, lips and floor of mouth), studies have shown the following:


Estimated Disease-Specific Survival at Five Years Estimated Disease-Specific Survival at Ten Years
Gum and Other Mouth Cancer Gum and Other Mouth Cancer
Stage I 81% 69%
Stage II 62% 49%
Stage III 45% 28%
Stage IV 40% 29%
What to Expect After Treatment

What to Expect After Treatment is Completed? 

Once you have made it through treatment, you need to have close follow-up with your doctorThis follow-up plan is recommended after being treated for an oral cancer:

  • Visit your head and neck specialist on a regular schedule (or earlier if you have any concerning symptoms). This allows your doctor to examine you for any signs that the cancer has come back.
  • For the first year, you should go every one to three months.
  • For the second year, you should go every two to six months.
  • For the third to fifth year, you should go every four to eight months.
  • After five years, you can start going every year.
  • Your doctor may request imaging. If something suspicious comes up, you might need another biopsy.
  • Check your thyroid function every six to twelve months if you have had radiation to the neck area.
  • Get help with a therapist as needed for difficulties with speaking, hearing and swallowing.
  • See a specialist about appropriate nutrition and diet.
  • Alert your doctor if you experience any signs of depression.
  • Stop smoking and stop drinking; counselling may help.
  • See a dentist.

*This page is supported by the following sources:

Cohen, E. E., LaMonte, S. J., Erb, N. L., Beckman, K. L., Sadeghi, N. , Hutcheson, K. A., Stubblefield, M. D., Abbott, D. M., Fisher, P. S., Stein, K. D., Lyman, G. H. and Pratt‐Chapman, M. L. (2016), American Cancer Society Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Care Guideline. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 66: 203-239. doi:10.3322/caac.21343