Lip Cancer


Lip cancer is a disease that develops anywhere on the upper or lower lips.

Lip cancer is sometimes misdiagnosed as a cold sore until the symptoms become worse over time. This kind of cancer is classified as an oral cancer and is usually seen more on the bottom lip than on the top.

  • Smoking and sun exposure are the most common causes of lip cancer.
  • More men usually have lip cancer than women.

Lip cancer often presents as a small red sore on the mouth, usually in the corner of the mouth. It is sometimes more prominent in people who smoke pipes or those who smoke cigars because the chemicals in the products used are stronger than in cigarettes. However, lip cancer is not limited to people who perform these lifestyle activities. At times, you might experience pain, but for many people, there is only an abnormal area present on the lip as an indication that something is wrong. As the cancer spreads, you might see white areas inside the mouth, or have a fever or a sore throat.

To diagnose lip cancer, a small portion of the lip tissue is biopsied and sent to a lab to determine if cancer cells are present. An imaging test can also be performed to determine if the cancer has spread to other areas, such as the throat or the lymph nodes.

Treatments for Lip Cancer

There are various ways to treat lip cancer. Radiation or chemotherapy are often the first treatments that the doctor will recommend. Powerful beams of energy are used on the lip during radiation to try to kill as many cancer cells as possible. Radiation is often done after surgery but can be considered as a first option if the cancer hasn’t spread to other areas.

Chemotherapy is an option as well. The treatment is done on the lip just like it is for other areas of the body. Instead of energy beams, drugs are used to kill the cancer cells that are present. This is a method of treatment that can make you sick and that can decrease your energy. Chemotherapy is sometimes used if the cancer has spread so that the drugs can reach as much of the body as possible whereas radiation treatments often impact only one certain area.

Surgery is an option as well. The surgeon will remove the cancerous tissue as well as some of the neighboring tissue to help prevent the cells from spreading. Plastic surgery might be required if the area removed is large. Most of the time, you can eat and drink normally after surgery and other treatments, as long as no functional areas of the lip are removed.