Oral cancer : age, symptoms, survival

Oral Cancer

Cancers of the oral cavity account for about 30% of ENT cancers. In most cases they are treated with surgery followed by radiation therapy. First signs, tests, causes, survival rates and treatments… An update on oral cancer.

Oral cancer

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What is oral cancer? At what age does it occur?

Oral cancer is a disease that causes cells and tissues to proliferate out of control, leading to the development of tumors.

Oral cancer is a condition that affects the mucous membranes of the mouth.

These are all cancers of the oral cavity: tongue, gums, hard palate, floor of the mouth, tonsils, inner surfaces of the days and lips” informs Dr. Philippe Gorphe, ENT surgeon of the Gustave Roussy Institute.

90-95% of oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that develop in the epithelium or lining tissues of the mucous membranes.

The tumor develops in situ and in depth,” he explains. The first distant invasion of this type of cancer is the neck with involvement of the lymph nodes. The average age of oral cancers is 62 years old.

The main cause of this type of cancer? Tobacco and alcohol.


The main cause of oral cavity factors is exposure to tobacco and alcohol. “One third of the cases are related to tobacco, one third to alcohol consumption, and the last third of the cases are not related to risk factors,” says the ENT surgeon.

People at risk

People at risk for oral cancer are those who smoke and/or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

The combination of tobacco and alcohol may increase the risk of oral cancer. Men are the most affected by these cancers, but the incidence increases in women due to the use of tobacco and alcohol by women.

Weight loss is very common


The symptoms of cancers of the oral cavity can be, depending on the location, permanent pain and pain when swallowing, difficulty eating, bleeding, ear pain, and tooth mobility,” says Dr. Philippe Gorphe. Weight loss is very common in cancers of the oral cavity, as well as the presence of lymph nodes in the neck.


Four stages are defined for cancers of the oral cavity:

  • Stage 1 refers to a tumor less than or equal to 2 cm in diameter,
  • Stage 2 a tumor larger than 2 cm and smaller than or equal to 4 cm,
  • stage 3 a tumor larger than 4 cm,
  • Stage 4 (T4) a tumor that invades adjacent structures.


Oral cavity (mouth) cancer can form on the lips, tongue, inside the lips and cheeks, the hard palate (arch of the mouth), the floor of the mouth (under the tongue), the gums. Tonsil cancers of the floor of the mouth and tongue are the most common.

  • Gum cancer
  • Cancer of the Jaw
  • Tonsil
  • Cancer of the palate
  • Cancer of the Tongue


The diagnosis of oral cancers is made with a clinical examination and biopsy, most often performed under endoscopy to look for other possible upper aerodigestive tract tumors (VADS).

When the biopsy confirms the cancer, an imaging study (CT scan and MRI) is performed to assess the extent of the disease. Early detection and treatment can improve the prognosis.


Treatment of oral cavity cancers is very often based on surgery followed by radiation therapy. When surgery is important, reconstructive surgery can be performed later.

Chemotherapy may be combined with radiation therapy when analysis of the tumor (biopsy) has shown factors of severity.

The 5-year survival rate for all stages of oral cancer is 50%.

Survival rate

The 5-year survival rate for all stages of oral cancer is 50%. But the rate depends on the stage of the disease and we must not forget that we are talking mostly about tobacco patients, who may have other tobacco-related diseases and who are of a certain age,” reports Dr. Philippe Gorphe.

The 5-year survival rate for stage 1 oral cancer is 70%, the 5-year survival rate for stage 4 cancer is 25%.

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