Lip cancer occurs on the skin of the lips. Lip cancer can occur anywhere along the upper or lower lip, but is most common on the lower lip. Lip cancer is considered a type of mouth (oral) cancer.

Treatment for lip cancer usually involves surgery to remove the cancer. For small lip cancers, surgery may be a minor procedure with minimal impact on your appearance.

For larger lip cancers, more extensive surgery may be necessary. Careful planning and reconstruction can preserve your ability to eat and speak normally, and also achieve a satisfactory appearance after surgery.

  • Teamwork. At Mayo Clinic, ear, nose and throat experts (otorhinolaryngologists) work as a multidisciplinary team with dermatologists, oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and plastic and reconstructive surgeons to care for people with lip cancer. Other professionals are included as needed.
  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have experience treating lip cancer. Each year, Mayo Clinic doctors care for more than 9,000 people with lip cancer.
  • A full range of treatment options to consider. Mayo Clinic doctors will work with you to review all of your treatment options and choose the treatment that best suits your needs and goals. The range of treatments offered to people with lip cancer includes surgery to remove lip cancer and to reconstruct and repair the mouth. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy also are offered.
  • Comprehensive cancer center. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center meets strict standards for a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center, which recognizes scientific excellence and a multidisciplinary approach to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

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Tests and procedures used to diagnose lip cancer include:

  • Physical exam. During a physical exam, your doctor will examine your lip, mouth, face and neck to look for signs of cancer. Your doctor will ask you about your signs and symptoms.
  • Removing a sample of tissue for testing. During a biopsy, your doctor will remove a small sample of tissue for laboratory testing. In the laboratory, a doctor who analyzes body tissue (pathologist) can determine whether cancer is present, the type of cancer and the level of aggressiveness that's present in the cancer cells.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests may be used to determine whether cancer has spread beyond the lip. Imaging tests may include computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET).

Lip cancer treatments include:

  • Surgery. Surgery is used to remove the lip cancer and a margin of healthy tissue that surrounds it. The surgeon then repairs the lip to allow for normal eating, drinking and speaking. Techniques to minimize scarring also are used.

    For small lip cancers, repairing the lip after surgery may be a simple procedure. But for larger lip cancers, skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeons may be needed to repair the lip. Reconstructive surgery may involve moving tissue and skin to the face from another area of the body.

    Surgery for lip cancer may also involve removing cancerous lymph nodes in the neck.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy for lip cancer may be used on its own or it may be used after surgery. The radiation may be aimed only at your lip, or it may also be aimed at the lymph nodes in your neck.

    Radiation therapy for lip cancer most often comes from a large machine that precisely focuses the energy beams. But in some cases, the radiation can be placed directly on your lip and left in place for a short time. This procedure, called brachytherapy, allows doctors to use higher doses of radiation.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. For lip cancer, chemotherapy is sometimes used in combination with radiation therapy to increase the effectiveness of treatment. In cases of advanced lip cancer that has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be used to reduce signs and symptoms and make you more comfortable.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, a collaborative team of experienced medical and surgical specialists works with you to determine which treatments best meet your needs. Your care team may include ear, nose and throat experts (otorhinolaryngologists), as well as experts in dermatology, pathology, oncology, radiation oncology and plastic surgery. Other experts may be included as well, depending on your situation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Florida, a collaborative team of experienced medical and surgical specialists works with you to determine which treatments best meet your needs. Your care team may include ear, nose and throat experts (otolaryngologists), as well as experts in dermatology, pathology, oncology, radiation oncology and plastic surgery. Other experts may be included as well, depending on your situation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., a collaborative team of experienced medical and surgical specialists works with you to determine which treatments best meet your needs. Your care team may include ear, nose and throat experts (otorhinolaryngologists), as well as experts in dermatology, pathology, oncology, radiation oncology and plastic surgery. Other experts may be included as well, depending on your situation.

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See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are studying new ways to diagnose and treat lip cancer.

Cancer research is conducted in coordination with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. The Mayo Clinic Cancer Center receives funding from the National Cancer Institute and is designated as a comprehensive cancer center — recognition for an institution's scientific excellence and multidisciplinary resources focused on cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic authors on lip cancer on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Apr. 08, 2014