What is Lip Cancer? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options

Lip cancer is the malignant condition of the lip noticed with abnormal cell division. Major causes of lip cancer are smoking habit, excessive alcohol consumption, elongated sun exposure, etc.

Avoidance of causative factors can prevent the development of cancer. Usually, the malignant lesion on the lip is associated with pain and initiates lip swelling or bleeding.


But you need not to worry if the lesion develops on your lip which shows similar symptoms. Not every painful and bleeding lesion is malignant.

You can treat lip cancer with various modalities such as surgery, radiation therapy, gene therapy, etc.

Fortunately, the lip cancer does not threaten your life until it spread to other body parts and it is highly treatable. Let us move ahead to know more about lip cancer in detail.

What is Lip cancer?

Lip cancer is the most common oral cancer which mostly affects male. Lip cancer can occur anywhere on the lips, but it most commonly occurs on the lower lip.

The abnormal and uncontrolled cell division tend to develop the cancerous lesion. There are two types of lip cancer –

  • Squamous cell
  • Basal cell

Squamous type of lip cancer is more common. Here the cancerous lesion is formed by the thin, flat squamous cells that line the lips and mouth.

What causes lip cancer?

The causative factors responsible for developing lip cancer include –

  • Smoking – particularly pipe smoking
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol
  • Excessive and prolonged sun exposure (1)
  • Tobacco chewing

Signs of lip cancer

The cancerous lesion shows many common symptoms as that of any other lesion. Hence, it often becomes difficult to diagnose the cancerous lesion.

However, the starring feature of any cancerous lesion is that they do last for a long time. They do not heal and show high recurrence.

Signs that develop in lip cancer are similar to those of other oral cancers. Following are the signs and symptoms noticed in lip cancer –

  • A sore lesion, blister, lump or ulcer on the lip that doesn’t go away and may last for more than two weeks
  • Red or white patch on the lip
  • Bleeding Lips
  • Swollen lips or jaw
  • Pain associated with the lip
  • Numbness of the lip
  • Areas of irritation on the lips

Who is at risk?

Besides the causative agents, the prevalence of lip cancer is more in certain individuals. You are at risk if –

  • You are a male
  • You have light-colored skin
  • You are older than 40years of age
  • You have an immunocompromised disease like HIV


Lip cancer is easily detectable and highly curable if diagnosed early. The dentist might diagnose the lip cancer on routine dental check-up.

If you have ulceration or lump on the lip that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have lip cancer. But if you develop the signs similar to that of the lip cancer then visit your dentist immediately.

The dentist will perform a thorough examination of the lesion and will ask you about –

  • Medical history
  • Past dental history
  • Smoking and alcohol history
  • The family history of the disease
  • Any medication that you are using

If your dentist suspects signs of lip cancer, then he will advise the biopsy of the lesion to confirm the diagnosis.

A small part of the lesion is removed under the effect of local anesthesia. The removed lesion is then used for histopathological examination.

The metastatic changes seen in histology of the tissue confirms the malignant nature of the lesion. (2)

Once the lip cancer is confirmed, your dentist will perform various other tests such as MRI, CT scan, CBC, PET, etc. to evaluate how far cancer has progressed.

Through clinical evaluation and investigations will help in deciding the plan the treatment.


Before treating the cancerous lesion, it is essential to act against the cause of cancer. Hence, avoidance of all the causative factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, sun exposure, etc. is necessary for a better outcome and early cure of the disease.

The goal in the treatment of lip cancer are –

  • Cure cancer
  • Preserve the appearance and functions of your lips
  • Avoid the recurrence of cancer

The treatment option is selected on the basis of the stage of cancer, the extent of progression, patient’s age and general health. Various treatment modalities used to treat the lip cancer includes –

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Gene therapy

If a tumor is small, surgery is performed to remove it. Lips allow the easy accessibility to lesion while performing surgery. The complete tumor mass along with the margin of healthy tissue is removed (3).

Post-surgery of the lip, reconstruction of lip happens. Lip reconstruction is necessary as it preserves the appearance and restores its ability to eat and speak normally.

In the case of large tumors, chemotherapy or radiation therapy performed. These therapies allow the lesion to shrink before the surgery and minimize the chances of recurrence.

Radiation therapy aims the tumor mass by the high energy particles. These high energy radiation helps to kill the cancer cells by damaging their DNA. (4)

Whereas, chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy either kill the cancerous cells or prevent the cell division.

In case of severe stage cancerous lesion, a combination of therapies is also used.


You can prevent the lip cancer by avoiding the causative factors of the disease. You should take the following measures to avoid lip cancer –

  • Avoid excessive sun exposure
  • Stop smoking and tobacco chewing
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Follow good oral hygiene regimen
  • Follow regular dental visits

Over to you

Lip cancer is an easily detectable and highly curable condition. But if, the lesion does not go away or show recurrence, then visit your doctor immediately.

The earlier detection of the disease stops the further progress of the cancerous lesion. You can avoid the development of lip cancer by quitting smoking, limiting alcohol use, avoiding excessive sun exposure, etc.

The varied treatment options can easily save you from the cancerous lesion and restore your appearance too.


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