Health and Medical

What Are the Stages of Oral Cancer?

In the US, there are around 54,000 new cases of oral cancer every year. For men, the chance of developing this cancer type is around 1 in 60, while women have a 1 in 140 chance.

Despite its increasing prevalence, few people know much about how to recognize oral cancer or what your treatment options are if you develop cancerous oral tissue.

So, what are the different oral cancer stages? Let’s take a closer look.

Stage 0: Carcinoma in Situ

Also called carcinoma in situ, stage 0 oral cancer is the very start of the scale. This stage refers to abnormal cells in the lining of your lips and cheeks, as well as on your gums and tongue which have the potential to become cancerous oral tissue. Oral cancer screenings are among the many services this dentist offers, giving you even more reason for regular dental check-ups.

Stage I

This stage describes a very early stage of cancer. At stage I, the primary tumor is no more than 2 cm in size and the cancer will have not yet reached the lymph nodes.

Stage II

At this stage, the primary tumor is larger than 2 cm but no more than 4 cm in size. At stage II, the cancer has not reached the lymph nodes.

Stage III

This stage of mouth cancer describes either a primary tumor that is larger than 4 cm or cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IV

This is the most advanced stage of oral cancer. The primary tumor may be any size, but reaching this stage means that the cancer has spread to:

  • nearby oral tissue, such as the jaw or other areas of the oral cavity
  • other, more distant, parts of the body, such as the lungs
  • one large lymph node (more than 3 cm) or several lymph nodes of any size on the same side of the neck as the primary tumor
  • one lymph node of any size on the opposite side of the neck to the tumor

Oral cancer may already have reached stage IV when a doctor first diagnoses this cancer type.

Stage IV oral cancer can also be recurrent, meaning that the cancer has come back after oral cancer treatment. Oral cancer in the two later stages is more likely to recur than earlier-stage oral cancers.

Oral Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment options for oral cancer depend on the location, stage, and type of cancer:

  • Surgery: If the oral cancer is still in the early stages, doctors prefer to use surgery to remove the primary tumor and stop the cancer from spreading
  • Chemotherapy: Patients take drugs either orally or via an intravenous line to kill the cancerous oral tissue
  • Radiation Therapy: This oral cancer treatment uses radiation beams on the tumor once or twice a day for two to eight weeks
  • Targeted Therapy: This oral cancer treatment uses targeted drugs that bind to cancer proteins to obstruct their growth

Understanding the Different Oral Cancer Stages

As this guide shows, there are five distinct oral cancer stages.

All these stages have very specific classifications and chances of reoccurrence, while certain oral cancer treatment options are better suited to certain stages.

Want more informative insights and news updates? Be sure to check out our other blog posts for all the latest tips and guides.


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