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Head & neck oncology

Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is a type of cancer that arises from the lining of the mouth. Understanding this condition, its causes, diagnostic methods, and treatment options is essential for those diagnosed and their loved ones. This page provides a brief overview of OSCC to help you make informed decisions about your health.

What is Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

OSCC is the most common type of oral cancer, accounting for about 90% of all oral malignancies. It originates in the squamous cells – the flat, thin cells that make up the epithelium (or outer layer) of the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, palate, and the gum.


While the exact cause of OSCC is not known, several risk factors have been identified:

  1. Tobacco Use: Both smoking and chewing tobacco increase the risk.
  2. Alcohol Consumption: Regular, heavy alcohol consumption is a major risk factor, especially when combined with tobacco use.
  3. Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Infections with certain types of HPV, especially HPV-16, can increase the risk.
  4. Poor Oral Hygiene: Lack of regular dental check-ups and poor oral care can be contributing factors.
  5. Chronic Irritation: Broken teeth, dentures that don’t fit properly, or rough fillings can lead to constant irritation and increase the risk.
  6. Diet: A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables can increase the risk.
  7. Sun Exposure: Prolonged exposure to the sun can increase the risk of cancer of the lip.


The diagnostic process usually begins with a clinical examination. Your dentist or doctor will look for any abnormalities. If a suspicious area is found, the following may be recommended:

  1. Biopsy: A sample of the suspicious tissue is removed and examined under a microscope for cancer cells. This biopsy can often be taken using local anesthesia.
  2. Imaging Tests: X-rays, CT scans, MRI, and/or PET scans may be used to determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread.


Treatment for OSCC depends on the stage of the disease, its location, and the patient's overall health. Common treatment options include:

  1. Surgery: Removal of the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue.
  2. Radiation Therapy: High doses of radiation are used to kill cancer cells.
  3. Chemotherapy: Drugs that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  4. Targeted Therapy: Drugs that target specific vulnerabilities in the cancer cells.
  5. Immunotherapy: Boosts the body's immune system to fight cancer.

Before surgery

If surgery is recommended, here's what you should know:

  1. Preparation: You may be asked to undergo preoperative tests and stop certain medications.
  2. Risks: All surgeries carry risks, including infection, bleeding, and reactions to anesthesia.
  3. Recovery: After surgery, you may need time to recover, and you may experience changes in your ability to chew, swallow, or speak. Rehabilitation services, such as speech therapy, may be beneficial.
  4. Follow-Up: Regular check-ups will be necessary to monitor for any signs of cancer recurrence or side effects from treatment.

Follow-up & questions

It is essential to have open communication with your healthcare team. They can provide information tailored to your situation, answer any questions you may have, and guide you through the treatment process. Early detection and treatment can greatly increase the chances of a positive outcome, so always seek medical advice if you notice any changes or abnormalities in your oral health.

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