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Lip Cancer

Lip cancer is a cancer that develops on the skin of the lips. While skin cancer on the rest of the body is the most common type of cancer in the United States, lip cancer is also very common and can sometimes be overlooked or mistaken for a cold sore or other lesion. Males can be as much as 10 times more likely to develop lip cancer than women, though it's a type of cancer that can affect anyone whose lips are significantly exposed to the sun. Family history and genetics are also factors. As with any type of cancer, the outcome for anyone with lip cancer is much better when it's detected and treated early.

Signs of Lip Cancer

The lower lip is most affected by cancer simply because this is the area of the lips that receives more sun exposure on a regular basis. Symptoms associated with lip cancer may include:

  • Blisters, lumps, or sores on the mouth that won't go away
  • Red or white patches on lips
  • Persistent lip pain or bleeding
  • Swelling of the jaw

These signs of lip cancer can be subtle, and sometimes are not be detected until you have a dental or doctors visit and something out of the ordinary is noticed. Oftentimes, this results in a referral to an ear, nose and throat doctor.

Lip Cancer Risk Factors

Fair-skinned people are more susceptible to developing lip cancer than individuals with a darker skin tone. Frequent alcohol and tobacco users are also at a higher risk of developing this form of oral cancer. Males are statistically at an increased risk for developing lip cancer since men are more likely to be tobacco users and work in an occupation based outdoors. Lip cancer risk factors include:

  • Significant sun exposure
  • Cigarette or cigar smoking
  • History of oral cancer
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Treatment for Lip Cancer

Tumors found on or around the lips often extend to other areas of the mouth, which is why treatment starts with a full examination of all areas that could be affected. The goal with any treatment for lip cancer is to preserve the functionality of the lips. Treatment for lip cancer can involve surgery, or a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which can be administered through oral medication.

Lip Cancer Surgery

Surgery for lip cancer becomes an option when other treatments are either not effective or not possible due to the size and location of the cancer. Involving precise control, Mohs microscopic surgery is a common procedure performed under a local anesthetic to treat tumors on or near lips. Since lip cancers tend to spread to nearby lymph nodes of the neck, these may also need to be removed at the time of surgery. Surgery to reconstruct the lip or lips may be necessary after larger tumors are removed.

If you think you may have lip cancer, an otolaryngologist can perform a thorough examination and subsequent testing, often including a biopsy, to determine if this is the case.

The risk of developing lip cancer can be reduced by using lip products with sunscreen. When detected early, lip cancer has a high success rate when it comes to treatment and recovery. Any significant changes in the appearance of the skin on your lips and anywhere else on your face or neck should be reported to your doctor.