Lip Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Outlook



Cancer cells can grow anywhere in the body. The tumor forms when the cells undergo mutation and instead of the normal cell growth, the cells divide and proliferate uncontrollably. As a result, tumors form.

Cancer is now a global threat as the number of cases have increased over the past years. One of the unlikely places for cancer to grow is the lips. Lip cancer happens on the skin of the lips and can be found anywhere in the upper or lower lip. Commonly, the lower lips are affected.

They form from abnormal cells that grow and divide out of control. These form lesions on the lips. Lip cancer is the most common type of oral cancers. The common risk factors include drinking alcohol, smoking, tanning and sun exposure.

The good thing is, this type of cancer is highly curable if it’s detected during the early stages of the disease. Prevention is also better than cure, so reducing the risk through certain preventive measures is essential.


Lip cancers may not have any symptoms. Usually, they are detected by the dentist during a routine dental examination. The common signs and symptoms include:

  • A red or white patch on the lip
  • A sore, blister, ulcer, lump or lesion on the mouth that does not go away
  • A lump or thickening on the lips or gums
  • Bleeding, numbness or pain in the lips
  • Jaw inflammation
  • Loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit well
  • Change in voice
  • A sore throat
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing

It is important to seek medical help once a lesion appears on the lip. This could hint not only cancer but also other medical conditions such as a cold sore.


Though the accurate cause of lip cancer is still unclear, it has been linked to many other cancers. However, a mutation in the cell leads to it becoming cancerous. One of the associated causes is the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Some experts say, however, that most cancers cannot tell what causes lip cancer. It is more likely to be a combination of environmental factors and genetic predisposition.

4Risk Factors

Lip cancer can be influenced by one’s behavior and lifestyle. At least 36,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. Here are factors that may contribute to the development of lip cancer.

Alcohol drinkingDrinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to the penetration of the DNA-damaging chemicals in the cells of the lips. When alcohol and smoking come together, the risk of lip cancer is higher.

Smoking or tobacco use – A majority of oral cancers are associated with cigarette smoking. The risk is even higher for individuals who drink alcohol and smoke at the same time. The chemicals in cigarette damage the lining of the lip, lead to the proliferation of the abnormal cancer cells.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infectionHPV commonly affects the penis, vagina, and cervix in the form of genital warts. However, since some sexual practices involve oral sex, this adds up to the increase of the virus in the lips and mouth.

Sun exposure – Too much exposure to the sun may increase the risk of developing lip cancer.

Lack of healthy fruits and vegetables – Certain foods contain antioxidant properties that are important in warding off cancer. Lack of the important fruits and vegetables will lead to an increased risk of having lip cancer.

Chronic irritation – When lip irritation occurs more frequently, it may lead to a heightened risk of lip cancer. This can also accommodate people with poorly fitting dentures or dental appliance.

Abode 40 years old – Adults are more than 40 years old, you have a higher risk of developing non-alcoholic beverages.

Other factors, still to be proven, include:

  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Certain viruses
  • Genetic factors
  • Food and nutrition


If lip cancer is not treated immediately or has a lip tumor, the cancer cells can spread to the food being prepared. If cancer has already spread it’s typically hard to cure.

The other potential complications if lip cancer includes:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Severe anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Change in taste
  • Numbness in the feet and hands
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Inflamed mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Infection


To diagnose lip cancer, the doctor will need to conduct a complete physical examination and medical history interview. For further diagnosis, the doctor may require:

Physical assessment – During the physical assessment, the specialist or doctor will look at the oral cavity, including the lip and mouth. Aside from looking at the lesion, the doctor will ask a series of questions about your medical history.

Imaging tests – Lip cancer can be diagnosed through imaging tests. These tests can be used to determine if cancer has spread to the other parts of the body. The most commonly used imaging tests for lip cancer are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT scan) and positron emission tomography (PET).

Biopsy – The confirmatory test that can be used is a biopsy or the removal of sample tissue for testing. The tissue sample is analyzed under a microscope to determine the type of drugs and the brother’s well-being.


When detected and treated early, lip cancer is curable. On the other hand, if the lesion is too large or it has become recurrent, there is an elevated risk of local and distant spread.

The usual treatment options include:

Surgery – One of the most convenient ways to treat lip cancer is through surgery. Also, you need to remove any lesion or tumor that might arise. This is the removal of the lip tumor including the lymph nodes if the cancer cells have spread to the surrounding tissues.

Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy uses powerful emergency beams to kill the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses potent drugs to kill cancer cells. In lip cancer, chemotherapy, this is used with radiation therapy to make sure all the cancer cells are killed in the process. Chemotherapy has many side effects such as a decreased immune system, nausea and vomiting, body weakness and hair loss. The most commonly used drug is Cisplatin or Platinol.

The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Hair loss
  • Poor appetite or anorexia
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Numbness in the hands and feet
  • Infection
  • Swollen mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Sore throat
  • Change in taste

Mouth cancer and lip cancer may affect the structures in the body that are essential for eating, speaking and breathing. Lip cancer, if not detected early, could affect these structures and the appearance of the patient. This means that as well as being treated by clinical practitioners and surgeons, the patient needs to see other supporting healthcare professionals such as a dentist, a dietician and a speech and language specialist. In some cases, specialists when it comes to a head and neck will also join the team. Since cancer and other life-threatening disorders can affect one’s mental state and psychological health, psychologists are important to provide treatment not only to the patient but the family and support system as well.

Complementary Therapy

Complementary therapy may also be utilized to increase the quality of life of cancer patients. These are used to boost their energy levels and relaxation. The most commonly used therapies are yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture.


The regular use of photoprotective lip blocks, which protects the lips from the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun could help reduce the risk of developing lip cancer.
Also, individuals should know the activities that could increase one’s risk of lip cancer.

About 70 percent of people who go to beaches to swim do not wear any sunblock for the lips. Also, even those who wear sunblock are not aware of the proper ways of applying. Despite the fact that photoprotective lip blocks are effective in reducing the exposure to ultraviolet rays, most individuals do not apply them appropriately.

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of UV exposure is to avoid being exposed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its strongest. Furthermore, protective sunscreens should provide the needed protection against the UV rays, knowing that these could also trigger free radical damage, a precursor for most cancers in the body.


Lip cancers are highly curable because the lips are visible and prominent. The lesions can be noticed and felt right away and easily. This allows for early diagnosis and an increased chance of survival or prognosis.

For people who had previous cancers, there is a greater risk of developing second cancer in areas like the mouth, neck, and head. The prognosis after treatment, without recurrence at five years is more than 90 percent.

Support is important in caring for someone with cancer. Aside from the needs to fulfill financial obligations regarding consultations and treatments, it is essential for the support system of the patient to provide the needed care physically and emotionally. Depression and anxiety are two mental health conditions affecting people with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Providing the needed support will help prevent these complications that could affect one’s life, work, and relationship with others.