Gum Cancer


Gum cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that begins when cells in the upper or lower gums grow out of control and form lesions or tumors. These cancers are often mistaken for gingivitis.

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Using tobacco products, particularly chewing tobacco, and regularly drinking too much alcohol can increase your chances of developing gum cancer. Dentists are typically the first to notice signs of gum cancer, often during a routine dental exam.

Symptoms of gum cancer may include:

  • white, red, or dark patches on the gums
  • bleeding or cracking gums
  • thick areas of the gums

Gum Cancer Treatment

Gum cancers are highly curable when diagnosed early. Treatment often involves surgery performed by a head and neck cancer surgeon.

The goals of the treatment of gum cancer are to:

  • cure the cancer
  • preserve your appearance and the functions of your mouth
  • prevent the cancer from coming back

The extent and depth of the cancer guides your plan of care. Treatment recommendations vary according to whether the cancer begins in the lower gums or the upper gums.

  • Upper gum cancer treatment more commonly includes maxillectomy (surgery to remove cancer in the roof of the mouth).
  • Lower gum cancer treatment more commonly includes mandibulectomy (surgery to remove cancer around the jawbone) and neck dissection (surgery to remove lymph nodes in the neck that contain or are likely to contain cancer).

If the cancer is more advanced, radiation, chemotherapy, or both may be used to shrink the tumor before or after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. For some people, radiation may be the only treatment needed.

Mouth Cancer Treatment
MSK’s experts are among the most experienced in the nation at treating cancers that arise in the mouth. Learn about our approach to care.

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