Oral Cancers

Oral Cancers

Mouth Cancer and Tongue Cancer

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Duke doctors use a comprehensive and personalized approach to detect and treat cancers that grow in your oral cavity, including your mouth, tongue, and palate. We use sophisticated surgical techniques to remove the tumor and do everything we can to preserve your ability to function and resume your normal life.

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The Best Care for Oral Cancers

Oral cancers can occur on the lips, tongue, inner cheeks, floor of the mouth, and palate. They need early diagnosis and prompt treatment to ensure the best possible outcome.

Our doctors and surgeons work closely with patients who experience mouth cancer, tongue cancer, and other oral cancers. We are expertly equipped in a range of surgical techniques to remove tumors while preserving your ability to speak and function normally. We work as a team, incorporating specialists in ear, nose, and throat surgery; medical and radiation oncology; reconstructive surgery; oral surgery; and dentistry. Our goal is to create a personalized treatment plan for the stage and type of your oral cancer. We do our best to treat your mouth cancer or tongue cancer and return you to your daily activities as quickly as possible.

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Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


When detected early, these types of cancer are highly curable -- often with either surgery or radiation therapy alone. More advanced cancers are generally treated with various combinations of treatment options.


Removes the tumor, affected parts of the oral cavity, lymph nodes, and surrounding tissues, depending on the type and size of the tumor and whether the tumor has spread. Our surgeons use a wide range of surgical approaches, including laser surgery, which can reduce bleeding. They also use robotic tools to increase their precision and visualization and allow them to remove hard-to-reach tumors. You may be able to participate in an experimental procedure, now being tested in clinical trials, that is evaluating the benefits of removing oral cancers using robotic tools through the mouth, rather than surgically through the neck.

Radiation Therapy

MRI and CT imaging technology pinpoints the precise location of the tumor, and we target it with beams of high-energy X-rays that destroy cancer cells. This image-guided approach, used before and after surgery, minimizes damage to surrounding healthy tissue.


A relatively new treatment option, immunotherapy takes advantage of a person's own immune system to help kill cancer cells. There are several FDA-approved options that can be delivered via oral medications or IV infusion. Depending on each person's cancer type and stage, treatment history, and overall health, immunotherapy may be prescribed alone or in combination with another type of therapy, such as chemotherapy.

Targeted Therapy

Another newer form of treatment, targeted therapy can help stop or slow the growth or spread of cancer by targeting specific aspects of your tumor's biology. Targeted therapies may be delivered in pill form or through onsite IV infusion and are often used in combination with another treatment like chemotherapy or radiation.


Medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing are used to treat oral cancers, both before and after surgery. Our medical oncologists consider your specific type of tumor and assess the risks versus benefits before recommending chemotherapy as part of your personalized treatment plan. We routinely combine the newest chemotherapy drugs with standard drug regimens to achieve a better response, fewer side effects, and improved quality of life.

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Reconstruction and Rehabilitation

Because oral cancer can cause problems with speaking, breathing, and swallowing, we partner with speech, physical, and occupational therapists who can help you improve those functions. In addition, our expert plastic and reconstructive surgeonsoral and maxillofacial surgeons, orthodontists, and dentists coordinate the complex care required to repair damage caused by oral cancer or its treatment. Often, reconstructive surgery can take place at the same time as your cancer surgery (for example, removing a tumor). Finally, we may recommend a dental prosthesis, implant, or graft to rebuild areas in your mouth. 



A small sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope to look for the presence of cancer.

Advanced Imaging

CT, MRI, and PET scans may be used to locate and identify the type of cancer and to determine whether it has spread. We use the latest MRI technology to ensure superior imaging, and CT scans to produce superior results with less exposure to radiation.


 A lighted tube is inserted in the mouth to identify cancer and determine its extent, how big it is, and what structures are involved.

Duke University Hospital is nationally ranked in 10 adult specialties
Among the Best Cancer Hospitals in U.S.
Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital's cancer program is ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.

Experts in Mouth Cancer and Tongue Cancer

Nationally-Ranked Cancer Program
As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we are recognized for exploring new treatment opportunities through ongoing clinical trials. We offer you the latest research discoveries before they are available elsewhere.

Access to Ongoing Research
You may be eligible to participate in our clinical trials, which may help you or others with oral cancers.

A Comprehensive Team
Our specialists -- otolaryngologists who are experts in head and neck surgery; medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists; radiologists; dentists; reconstructive surgeons; and oral surgeons -- work together to ensure you receive the best possible care. Specially trained nurses, occupational therapists, voice therapists, and speech pathologists help you maintain or regain your ability to talk, eat, swallow, and perform other daily functions. Social workers, psychologists, and palliative care experts help you cope with the emotional and psychological effects often associated with cancer. Physical therapists and cancer nutritionists help you maintain your strength and stamina through exercise and good eating habits.

Experienced Radiologists
Our radiologists are specially trained to read images for tracheal cancer and have experience based on doing just that on a regular basis. We use MRI as well as CT scans, which produce superior quality images with lower doses of radiation exposure.

Support for You
Our comprehensive support services help you minimize the side effects of treatment and cope with the emotional and psychological effects of diagnosis and care. View our cancer support groups in our event calendar.

Reviewed: 10/09/2019