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Lip Cancer

It's easy to take your lips for granted. Most of us are unaware of the role our lips play in how we taste food and talk.

Lip cancer is the most common form of oral cancer, which can also involve the tongue, gums and the floor or roof of the mouth.

The most common type of oral cancer and lip cancer is squamous cell cancer. This type of cancer is dangerous because it can spread, but when caught early, it is very treatable.

Risk factors

Lip cancer has several risk factors:

  • Tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes
  • Alcohol use, especially combined with tobacco use
  • Sun exposure, especially if you have fair skin

Males are affected by lip cancer at a much higher rate than females, a statistic attributed to occupation-related sun exposure as well as the increased likelihood of tobacco use and alcohol abuse.

Although it can occur in either the lower lip or the upper lip, lower lip cancer is 12 times more likely than upper lip cancer.


  • Medical history. Every diagnosis begins with a thorough discussion between you and a physician to develop an accurate and complete medical history. 
  • Physical examination. This is followed by a physical exam, where an otolaryngologist examines the oral cavity, as well as the lips, mouth, throat, skin and nose. The examination will inspect these areas for lesions, scales, sores and any areas of discoloration.
  • Imaging. There may be a need for more specific diagnostic tests such a biopsy, or specific imaging studies such as an X-ray, MRI, CT scan or PET scan. 


Lip and oral cancer is most treatable when it is caught early.

Our treatment of lip cancer combines maximum effectiveness while minimizing any trauma to preserve the appearance and function of the lips.

Your treatment plan may consist of:.

  • Surgery. The surgical technique used will depend on the extent of your lip cancer. Mohs microscopic surgery is a common technique used to treat lip tumors as it offers a very high cure rate, in addition to preserving the function and appearance of the lips. Larger tumors may require reconstructive surgery. Removal of lymph nodes in the area may be done, as well.
  • Radiation. High-energy rays and beams are applied to the area to target and kill the cancer cells. Diagnostic imaging can be used in conjunction with radiation therapy, a technique referred to as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), to enhance the accuracy of the treatment, thereby allowing the surrounding tissue to remain unharmed. This technique may be used for lip cancers that have spread to surrounding lymph nodes. 
  • Chemotherapy. Often used in conjunction with radiation therapy, chemotherapy is another technique used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered through oral medications or intravenously.
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