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Lip Cancer

Lip Cancer

Most people take their lips for granted because they are unaware of the role they play in how you taste and how you talk. Oral Cancer can occur in various areas of the mouth including the tongue, gums, floor of the mouth, and roof of the mouth, but the most common form of oral cancer is lip cancer. As with the majority of other forms of oral cancer, the most common type of lip cancer is squamous cell cancer, which is responsible for nearly 90% of oral cancers. Squamous cell cancer is so dangerous because it has the ability to spread. When diagnosed early, lip cancer is highly curable.

Risk Factors for Lip Cancer: 

Risk Factors for Lip Cancer:

Lip cancer has several widely known risk factors. Like most types of oral cancer, tobacco use and alcohol consumption are common risk factors for lip cancer. Unlike other areas of the mouth that can develop cancer, the lips are especially susceptible to excess sun exposure which can lead to skin cancer. Although it can occur in either the lower lip or the upper lip, lower lip cancer is 12-times more likely to develop than upper lip cancer. Males are affected by lip cancer at a much higher rate than females, a statistic attributed to occupation-related sun exposure as well as the increased likelihood of tobacco use and alcohol abuse.

Risk Factors for Lip Cancer include:

  • Tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. 
  • Heavy alcohol consumption, especially in conjunction with tobacco use.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Excess Sun Exposure
  • Light-Colored Skin

Diagnosis of Lip Cancer:

Here at UC-Irvine’s Head and Neck Department we have a patient-centered approach. This means that every diagnosis begins with a thorough discussion between patient and doctor in order to generate an accurate and complete medical history. This will be followed by a targeted physical examination where a board-certified Otolaryngologist will examine the entire oral cavity and the areas surrounding it including the lips, mouth, throat, skin and nose. The examination will inspect these areas for lesions, scales, sores, and any areas of discoloration. Following a thorough examination, there may be a need for more specific diagnostic tests such a biopsy, or specific imaging studies such as an x-ray, MRI, CT-scan, or PET-scan. 

Treatment of Lip Cancer:

Early diagnosis is extremely important in the ultimate prognosis of lip cancer. When diagnosed and treated early, it is highly curable. Due to its nature of being a mainly squamous cell type of cancer, late diagnosis of lip cancer increases the risk of the cancer having spread. Treatment of lip cancer at UC-Irvine’s Head and Neck Department focuses on maximum effectiveness while minimizing trauma to preserve the physical appearance and functional ability of the lips. A specialized treatment plan can only be established following diagnosis. The treatment plan may consist of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of techniques.

  • Surgery:  The surgical technique used will depend on the extent of your lip cancer. Mohs microscopic surgery is a common technique used to treat lip tumors as it offers a very high cure rate, in addition to preserving the function and appearance of the lips. Larger tumors may require reconstructive surgery. Removal of lymph nodes in the area may be done as well during the surgical procedure.
  • Radiation: High energy rays and beams are applied to the area to target and kill the cancer cells. Diagnostic imaging can be used in conjunction with radiation therapy, a technique referred to as Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), to enhance the accuracy of the treatment, thereby allowing the surrounding tissue to remain unharmed. This technique may be used for lip cancers that have spread to surrounding lymph nodes. 
  • Chemotherapy: Often used in conjunction with radiation therapy, chemotherapy is another technique used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered through oral medications or intravenously.

Lip cancer is highly curable when found early on. It is also preventable by limiting risk factors. Applying adequate sun protection to the lips, not using tobacco products, and limiting alcohol intake can all go a long way towards prevention of oral cancers. Visit UC-Irvine’s Head and Neck Department in Orange County for comprehensive screening, diagnosis and treatment of lip cancer and other forms of oral cancer.