Oral cancer begins in the mouth, also called the oral cavity. This region of the body includes the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks (called the buccal mucosa), the teeth, the gums, most of the tongue, the bottom of the mouth, and the bony roof of the mouth, or hard palate.
In addition, oral cancer may also develop in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat that is just behind the mouth. When cancer occurs here, it is called oropharyngeal cancer or throat cancer, and can include the back of the tongue, the back of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the walls of the upper throat.
The oral cavity and oropharynx are key to the healthy functioning of the body. They help us breathe, eat and speak. Salivary glands in the oral cavity start breaking down food as we chew, an essential part of digestion.
Cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity. Because each part of the oral cavity is different, oral cancer encompasses a wide variety of cancer types that are treated in different ways.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 53,260 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2020.
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