Lip Cancer: Signs, Risk Factors, and Prevention

Lips with an unidentified sore or lesion.

Lumps or sores on your lips that wonโ€™t go away may be an early sign of lip cancer.

Lip cancer is a type of oral cancer and the most common one at that. It occurs when there are abnormal growths on the squamous cells found on the surface of the lips and mouth.

Often, the disease affects the lower lip.

How common is lip cancer?

Anyone can develop lip cancer, but it is most prevalent among individuals ages 50 and above.

According to estimates by health authorities, 5,400 Canadians will have been diagnosed with oral cancer by 2020. Oral cancer can spread quickly, but if detected early, it also has a high chance of being cured.

What are the potential causes of lip cancer?

The following factors may increase a personโ€™s risk of developing lip cancer:

  • Male as a gender. Men are more likely to develop oral cancer than women.
  • Age. Oral cancer is most common among those aged 50 and older.
  • Smoking tobacco. Cancer is often linked to chewing and smoking tobacco.
  • Excessive alcohol intake. Heavy alcohol drinkers are more vulnerable to oral cancer, especially those who also smoke.
  • Unhealthy diet. A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables can also increase the risk of oral cancer.
  • Too much sun exposure. Workers or people who are exposed to the sun for long hours are also at an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Weak immune system. A weakened immune system can also lead to higher risks for lip cancer.
  • Poor oral health. People with poor oral hygiene or who are diagnosed with dental problems such as gum disease also have higher chances of developing the condition.

How does lip cancer look?

Lip cancer can appear like a mouth sore. The symptoms can vary, and may include the following:

  • A persistent sore on the lip or mouth
  • Lesions that donโ€™t heal
  • Red or white patch on the gums or tongue
  • Lumps on the throat or mouth
  • Sore throat that doesnโ€™t go away
  • Feeling like thereโ€™s an object dislodged in the throat
  • Chewing and swallowing difficulties
  • Changes in your voice
  • Swelling in the jaw area
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Numbness in the mouth

Diagnosing lip cancer

Consult a dentist or healthcare provider immediately if you observe signs of lip cancer. Your consultation will likely begin with a physical examination of your mouth and associated structures to look for anomalies.

A tissue sample will be collected to confirm malignancy. Oral cancer can also develop in other locations besides the lips. Depending on the suspected cancer's location, a different diagnostic procedure may be performed.

If the results show lip cancer, your doctor may request additional testing to determine the extent of the disease.

Can lip cancer be prevented?

To lower your risk of developing lip cancer, it can help to:

  • Stop smoking or avoid smoking. Tobacco, whether inhaled or chewed, exposes the lips to carcinogenic chemicals.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to the sun. Use protective gear, such as hats and umbrellas, if you are going out during the day.
  • Use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen if engaging in activities in broad daylight. Reapply as necessary.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. If this is your go-to activity to unwind, consider looking for other ways to relax or destress, such as playing sports.
  • Sign up for routine oral cancer screenings. It doesn't take long, and your dentist can most likely provide it during your twice-a-year check-ups.

Oral cancer screenings are beneficial in determining if irregularities are cancer-related. Your dentist can spot symptoms and refer you to specialists if necessary.

At Image Dental Care, we perform routine oral examinations to monitor the condition of your mouth and detect potential issues early.

Donโ€™t ignore unusual appearances in your mouth and nearby structures. If you need a dental appointment booked in Red Deer, AB, leave us a message, and weโ€™ll get back to you immediately.