Oral Cavity (Mouth) Cancer

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Duke Health oral cancer specialists use a comprehensive and personalized approach to detect oral cavity (mouth) cancers that can grow in areas such as your lips, gums, cheek, the front part of your tongue, the floor of your mouth (underneath the tongue), or cancer that has spread to your upper or lower jaw bone. We use sophisticated surgical techniques to remove the tumor and perform reconstruction surgery, doing everything we can to preserve your ability to function and resume your normal life.

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The Best Care for Oral Cancers

We create a personalized treatment plan for your specific stage and type of oral cancer. Our oral cancer specialists are expertly trained in a range of surgical techniques to remove tumors and perform complex reconstructions if required. This helps preserve the ability to speak and swallow, which can be affected by cancers in the oral cavity. Our goal is to treat your cancer and return you to your daily activities as quickly as possible.

Our Locations

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



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

Advanced Imaging

CT, MRI, ultrasounds, 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 imaging technology to produce superior results with less radiation exposure.


A lighted tube is inserted in the nose to evaluate the mouth and the back of the nose (nasopharynx), throat (pharynx), and voice box (larynx) as well.


When detected early, mouth cancer is highly curable -- often with surgery and radiation therapy. More advanced cancers are generally treated with a combination of treatments.


Surgery is usually the first treatment for mouth cancer. Surgery removes the tumor and affected parts of the oral cavity. Lymph nodes in the neck may need to be removed as well, depending on the tumor type and size and whether the cancer has spread. Our surgeons use a wide range of surgical approaches to ensure complete tumor removal with fewer side effects. 

Reconstructive surgery can be performed at the same time when necessary. Depending on the severity of the tumor, a tracheostomy and feeding tube may be used in the days following surgery while you recover.

Radiation Therapy

We use MRI and CT imaging technology to pinpoint the tumor's location and 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.

Systemic Treatments

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.

Targeted Therapy
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 other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.

Chemotherapy medications kill cancer cells or stop them from growing, before and/or after surgery. Medical oncologists consider your specific type of tumor and assess the risks and 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.

Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Because oral cancer can cause problems with speaking, breathing, and swallowing, we partner with speech, physical, and occupational therapists to improve those functions.

Often, reconstructive surgery takes place at the same time as your original surgery to remove a tumor. We can partner with dentists, prosthodontists, and oral surgeons to recommend dental prostheses, implants, or grafts to rebuild areas in your mouth.

Best Cancer Hospital in North Carolina

Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why our cancer program is nationally ranked, and the highest-ranked program in North Carolina, according to U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Why Choose Duke

The Duke Cancer Institute
The Duke Cancer Institute brings together the extensive resources of Duke University, Duke Health, and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. We are committed to making innovative discoveries, developing new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer, and delivering those therapies in a patient- and family-centric way.

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. You may be eligible to receive experimental treatments before they are available elsewhere.

A Comprehensive Team
Our team of specialists includes otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors and experts in head and neck surgery), surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, and dentists and oral medicine specialists (who are trained to manage issues related to cancer and cancer treatments that can contribute to tooth decay, bone deterioration, jaw stiffness, pain, and other problems).

We work together to ensure you receive the best possible care. Specially trained nurses and therapists 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 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 and regularly read images for oral cancer. 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.

This page was medically reviewed on 12/08/2023