Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Lip cancer is the most common cancer that affects the mouth. This type of cancer occurs most frequently in men, tobacco and heavy alcohol users, and in people with a history of excessive sun exposure. Signs of lip cancer include persistent lesions, sores or patches. Early detection is important, since lip cancer very treatable in the early stages. See your doctor without delay if you have any signs of this oral cancer.
Sores or Lesions
Lip cancer usually begins in the squamous cells -- the thin flat skin cells -- and spreads into deeper areas of the lips as the cancer grows. An early sign may be an irritated area that looks like chapped lips or an open sore or lesion on your lips. While these look like cold sores, they won't heal the same or won't heal at all. The sore may be numb or painful, may bleed easily or excessively, or may appear as a crusty patch on the lip.
Patches or Lumps
Lip cancer may also be signaled by a red or white patch on your lip that becomes crusty, itchy or bleeds. Another warning sign is a newly occurring, pale area that has a scar-like appearance. Lumps or wart-like growths on the lips, painful or not, can be a cause for action as well.
Pain or Numbness
Lip cancer may first appear as pain or numbness on the lip without any visible signs of a tumor. Any bleeding, pain or numbness that persists should be evaluated. Pain elsewhere in the oral cavity, including the jaw, gums, lining of the mouth or tongue, should also be evaluated.
Examine your mouth and lips monthly for any lip cancer symptoms. While most sores or bumps are not cancerous, it's important to see your doctor or dentist if you have any changes in the appearance of your lips, or if you have any sore, lump or thickening on the lip that does not go away after 2 weeks. Early intervention and treatment increases the odds of successfully removing any cancer found. See your dentist regularly, since oral cancer screening is part of comprehensive dental exams.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD