Cancer of the floor of the mouth: beware of alcohol, tobacco and viruses

Cancer of the floor of the mouth is cancer that starts in the tissue under the tongue. Cancer of the floor of the mouth most often starts in the thin, flat cells that line the inside of your mouth (squamous cells). Changes in the way the tissues in the floor of the mouth look and feel, such as a lump or sore that does not heal, are often the first signs of floor of mouth cancer. Treatments for cancer of the floor of the mouth include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Symptoms of floor of mouth cancer

Signs and symptoms of floor of mouth cancer may include:

– Pain in the mouth
– Sores in the mouth that do not heal
– Loose teeth
– Pain when swallowing
– Weightloss
– Ear pain
– Swelling of the neck which can be painful
– White spots in the mouth that do not disappear.

When to consult a doctor

Talk to your doctor or dentist about any lingering signs or symptoms that worry you.

Causes of cancer of the floor of the mouth

Cancer of the floor of the mouth forms when a genetic mutation changes normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate and eventually die at some point. Abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control, but do not die. Abnormal cells that accumulate form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can separate from an initial tumor to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Risk factors for cancer of the floor of the mouth

Factors that may increase the risk of cancer of the floor of the mouth include:

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– smoking
– Alcohol consumption
– be infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
– taking medicines that weaken the immune system.
If you use tobacco and alcohol, the risk is even higher.


Here are some ways to reduce your risk of floor of mouth cancer:

– Do not use tobacco

If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. If you currently use any tobacco, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.

– Limit your alcohol consumption if you choose to drink it

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

– Have your teeth checked regularly.

During your appointment, your dentist will examine your mouth for signs of cancer and precancerous changes.

– Consider the HPV vaccine.

Receiving a vaccine to prevent HPV infection can reduce your risk of HPV-related cancers, such as oral cancer. Ask your doctor if the HPV vaccine is right for you.


Tests and procedures used to diagnose cancer of the floor of the mouth may include:

– A thorough physical examination. The process begins with a physical exam and a discussion of your symptoms and medical history.

– Removal of a tissue sample for analysis (biopsy)

– Imaging tests. Imaging tests help your doctor determine how far your cancer has spread and whether it has spread. These exams may include a CT scan, MRI, and positron emission tomography (PET). The tests you undergo depend on your particular situation.

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– Evaluation of nutrition, speech and swallowing. Some people will need to meet with nutrition, speech, and swallowing specialists to determine next steps.


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