Overview

Floor of the mouth cancer is cancer that begins on the tissue underneath your tongue.

Floor of the mouth cancer most often begins in the thin, flat cells that line the inside of your mouth (squamous cells). Changes in the look and feel of the tissue on the floor of the mouth, such as a lump or a sore that doesn't heal, are often the first signs of floor of the mouth cancer.

Floor of the mouth cancer treatments include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of floor of the mouth cancer can include:

  • Mouth pain
  • Sores in your mouth that won't heal
  • Loose teeth
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Weight loss
  • Ear pain
  • Swelling in your neck that may hurt
  • White patches in your mouth that won't go away

When to see a doctor

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

Causes

Floor of the mouth cancer forms when a genetic mutation turns normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don't die. The accumulating abnormal cells 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

Things that may increase the rison of floor of the mouth cancer include:

  • Using tobacco
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Taking medications that suppress your immune system

If you use tobacco and drink alcohol, the risk is even higher.

Prevention

Ways to reduce your risk of floor of the mouth cancer include:

  • Don't use tobacco. If you don't use tobacco, don't start. If you currently use tobacco of any kind, talk with your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
  • Limit alcohol if you choose to drink. 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.
  • Get regular dental care. During your appointment, your dentist will check your mouth for signs of cancer and precancerous changes.
  • Consider the HPV vaccine. Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of HPV-related cancers, such as mouth cancer. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.

Floor of the mouth cancer care at Mayo Clinic

Aug. 22, 2019
  1. AskMayoExpert. Oral cavity carcinoma, stages I to IV: Diagnosis to first treatment (adult). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2017.
  2. Flint PW, et al. Malignant neoplasms of the oral cavity. In: Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2015. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed June 2, 2019.
  3. Head and neck cancers. Plymouth Meeting, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  4. Warner KJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 3, 2019.
  5. Fonseca RJ, ed. Squamous cell carcinoma of the oral and maxillofacial region. In: Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed July 14, 2019.
  6. Oral cavity, pharyngeal, and laryngeal cancer prevention (PDQ) — Health professional version. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/oral-prevention-pdq. Accessed July 14, 2019.
  7. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed Aug. 5, 2019.

Related

Associated Procedures