Oral Cancer


Your oral cavity includes the front two-thirds of your tongue, your gums, the inner lining of your cheeks, the bottom of your mouth, the roof of your mouth and the area behind your wisdom teeth. This part of your body is instrumental in your ability to breathe, speak, chew and swallow.

What is oral cancer?

These cancers usually start in the squamous cells, the ones that line your mouth. More than 80 percent of such cancers are linked to tobacco use. This cancer can grow into tissue under the squamous cells.

Initially, you may see it as white patches in your mouth called areas of leukoplakia. There are many other types of cells in your mouth too and cancer can start in them. It’s important to work with a team of doctors who have experience in treating oral cavity cancers so you get the right treatment for the type of cancer you have and so your doctors can work to preserve as much as possible the functions of your mouth and oral cavity.

Some 39,400 people will be diagnosed with an oral cancer annually, according to the American Cancer Society.

Your care team

Your head and neck care team, officially called a multidisciplinary team, is part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Institute. Most doctors you will see work only with head and neck patients, giving them invaluable, extensive experience in helping you recover.

Specialists from several areas serve on your care team, including ear, nose and throat surgeons, microvascular surgeons, radiologists, neuroradiologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, a maxillofacial prosthodontist, a dental specialist in oral medicine and radiology, dentists, nurses, speech pathologists, dieticians, social workers and others. They meet weekly so each member can review your case, recommend treatment and receive updates at several points in your treatment. Team members consider your age, general health and the type, location and stage of your cancer in making treatment recommendations.

What we do

Your head and neck care team specializes in treating cancers of the head and neck. In fact, they offer some treatments so specialized this is the only place in the state you can get them. For example, our surgeons and maxillofacial prosthodontist work together to provide nose and ear prostheses for people who need them. Doctors from around the state often refer complex or late stage cases to this team.

Your team includes surgeons who can remove cancers and perform reconstructive surgery to help you maintain essential functions like breathing and swallowing. Your surgeons work with dentists, speech pathologists and audiologists if the cancer or treatment may interfere with your ability to chew, swallow, speak or hear. Your dental team, working with surgeons, can provide dental prostheses which will make it easier for you to speak and swallow. Speech pathologists will work with you to regain a voice after surgery or treatment which may impair or remove your larynx. Since head and neck cancers can impair your daily living so radically, it is important to work with a team which specializes in treating these diseases.

Your care team takes other steps to ensure you will recover, too. Surgeons routinely do sentinel lymph node biopsies to see if cancer has spread to your lymphatic system. Your radiation oncologist and his team have the equipment, knowledge and experience to offer complex radiation treatments. Team members diagnose, design a treatment plan for you, treat you and will see you regularly after treatment. Team members coordinate services, and most are offered under one roof making it easier for you to make and meet appointments. A scheduler will work with you and your doctors to set appointments so whenever possible you can come to one place for all your treatments.