Oral Cavity or Throat Cancer Symptoms


Oral cavity cancer and throat cancer are often grouped together in discussion because of the close proximity of the mouth and throat. However, symptoms will vary depending on the exact region in which the cancer originates, so it’s important to understand the anatomy of this area of the body. The oral cavity (also known as the mouth) includes the:

  • Lips
  • Lining of the lips and cheeks (buccal mucosa)
  • Gums (gingiva)
  • Front two-thirds of the tongue
  • Roof of the mouth (hard palate)
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Area behind the wisdom teeth (retromolar trigone)

The throat (pharynx) is the hollow tube within the neck that extends from the back of the nasal cavity down to the top of the esophagus and the trachea. The throat is divided into the following three sections:

  • Nasopharynx – This portion is located at the top of the throat, behind the nose.
  • Oropharynx – This part is located in the middle of the throat, behind the oral cavity. It consists of the back third of the tongue, the soft palate, the tonsils and the side and back walls of the throat.
  • Hypopharynx – This portion is located at the bottom of the throat

Oral cavity cancer symptoms

Cancer within the oral cavity can cause the following symptoms:

  • Lumps, bumps, rough patches or areas of erosion on the lips or within the mouth
  • Swelling on the lips or within the mouth
  • Red or white patches within the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding within the mouth
  • Sores in the mouth or on the face or neck that don’t heal within two weeks
  • Unexplained pain, tenderness, numbness or loss of sensation in the face, mouth or neck
  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • A feeling of having something caught in the back of the throat
  • Voice changes
  • Hoarseness
  • Changes in the way teeth fit together when biting
  • Difficulty speaking, chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw
  • Unexplained weight loss

Throat cancer symptoms

Throat cancer symptoms will vary depending on the section of the throat that’s affected by the malignancy.

Nasopharyngeal cancer symptoms

Cancer within the nasopharynx (the top section of the throat) can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Facial pain and numbness
  • Ringing within the ears (tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss
  • A feeling of fullness within the ears
  • Ear infections
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nosebleeds
  • Difficulty opening the mouth, breathing or speaking
  • Lumps within the neck

Oropharyngeal cancer symptoms

Cancer within the oropharynx (the middle section of the throat) can cause:

  • Lumps in the mouth, the back of the throat or the neck
  • White patches on the tongue or the lining of the mouth
  • Ear pain
  • Throat soreness
  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Unexplained weight loss

Hypopharyngeal cancer symptoms

Cancer within the hypopharynx (the bottom section of the throat) can cause:

  • Palpable lumps in the neck
  • Ear pain
  • Ringing within the ears (tinnitus)
  • A feeling of fullness within the ears
  • Throat soreness
  • Voice changes
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing

When are these malignancies usually discovered?

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers are often discovered during screenings or routine exams conducted by a dentist, doctor or oral hygienist or through self-examination, so they are commonly found early when treatment options are wide-ranging. Hypopharyngeal cancer can be difficult to find and diagnose without the use of complex tests. This malignancy is relatively rare, but occasionally causes symptoms that can lead doctors to a throat cancer diagnosis.

Oral cavity and throat cancer treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Head and Neck Cancer Program provides individualized treatment plans developed by a multispecialty team of experts. Our collaborative tumor board meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case, always focusing special attention on preservation of function, quality of life, rehabilitation and patient education. We are dedicated to providing the most advanced, effective head and neck cancer treatments available while also offering compassionate care. Moffitt is the only cancer center based in Florida to have received the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute—a testament to our unwavering commitment to excellence in cancer treatment, research and patient care.

Contact Moffitt Cancer Center’s Head and Neck Cancer Program by calling 1-888-663-3488 or by filling out our new patient registration form to make an appointment to discuss the specifics of your oral cavity or throat cancer symptoms. Your cancer diagnosis is our top priority, so we’ll be sure to connect you with a cancer expert within a day.