Mouth cancer (oral cancer) 

Mouth cancer is where a tumour develops on the surface of the tongue, lips, gums or jaws.

The main causes of mouth cancer are drinking heavily and smoking or chewing tobacco. The risk is greater if you do both.

Other things may also increase the risk. These include:

  • Chewing betel quid (even if it doesn’t have tobacco in it)
  • Medical problems that cause a weak immune system
  • infection with a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Eating an unhealthy diet with not enough fresh fruit and vegetables.

Long-term ultraviolet light exposure (from sunlight, sun beds or sunlamps) increases the risk of lip cancer.

The most common symptom of mouth cancer is an ulcer or sore in the mouth or on the lip that doesn’t heal.

Other symptoms may include:

  • A white (leukoplakia) or red (erythroplakia) patch in the mouth that doesn’t go away
  • A lump or thickening in the mouth or on the lip
  • difficulty or pain with chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • Bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • loose teeth or dentures that don’t fit well anymore
  • a lump in the neck
  • losing a lot of weight over a short time.

These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, but it's important to have them checked by your doctor or dentist. Mouth cancer can be treated more successfully when it’s diagnosed early.

Read more about diagnosing and treating head and neck cancer at UCLH.


Mr Nicholas Kalavrezos, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Head and Neck Surgeon

Nicholas Kalavrezos is a head and neck reconstructive surgeon and the lead clinician in the Head and Neck Centre at UCLH with a background in oral and maxillo-facial surgery. Mr Kalavrezos is also the lead head and neck sarcoma surgeon for the London Sarcoma Service. His clinical practice includes ablative and reconstructive surgery for the head and neck with a special interest in bone sarcomas and functional outcomes following reconstructive surgery. His clinical practice also includes surgical treatment of salivary gland tumours as well as thyroid surgery.

Mr Kalavrezos’ research interests include applications of “tissue engineering” in head and neck reconstruction. He is a founding member of the “Centre for Reconstructive Surgery” at University College London (UCL) where he also holds a senior lecturer post. He is also a member of the “Face Transplant Group” based at the Royal Free Hospital aiming to perform the first face transplant in the UK. He has joint research projects in the Nanotechnology Lab of UCL on “tissue engineered bio-scaffolding” aiming to replace defects of the head and neck (i.e. nose and ears) with tissue-engineered based micro-vascular flap reconstruction.

Nicholas lectures regularly at national and international meetings and holds the position of the secretary general on the Executive Board of the European Association for Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery.

Full consultant profile

Mr Colin Liew, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Head and Neck Surgeon

Mr Colin Liew

Mr Liew was appointed consultant oral and maxillofacial head and neck surgeon in 2009. He has a specialist interest in ablative and reconstructive head and neck surgery, salivary gland and skin surgery.

Mr Liew completed training at the London Deanery. He was a fellow of head and neck surgical oncology at West of Scotland Regional Services from 2007-2008.

He is currently chair of the MDT, MDT lead of the head and neck oncology service and tracheostomy services MDT lead. Previously he has been education lead and assigned educational supervisor (2009-2015) and head and neck audit lead (2009-2014).

Full consultant profile

Prof Mark McGurk, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Head and Neck Surgeon

Prof Mark McGurk

Professor McGurk’s clinical practice has centred on head and neck cancer surgery and minimally invasive management of salivary gland disease as has his research themes.

He has championed minimally invasive surgery for benign parotid tumours and obstructive salivary gland disorders. This has revolutionised the treatment of salivary gland disease and it is now no longer necessary to routinely remove salivary glands for benign disease. This minimally invasive service is avaiable at UCL (

Professor McGurk has also led a European trial in sentinel node biopsy (SNB) which has led to a 75% reduction in the need for neck dissection for early mouth cancers (first in the UK). His work has changed the practice of head and neck cancer in the UK. The work on SNB has now been recognised by NICE who have advised the test should be avaiable in cancer centres around the UK. Professor McGurk has set up a national training program at UCLH to introduce SNB in UK.

Professor McGurk lectures widely at national and international conferences and runs annual master classes on salivary gland surgery in London, Paris and Erlangen for maxillofacial and ENT consultants.

Ms Clare Schilling, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon

Ms Schilling is a Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon specialising in Head and Neck cancer and reconstructive surgery. She is Honorary Associate Professor of the Head and Neck Academic Centre (HNAC) in the division of surgical and interventional science at University College London.

Full consultant profile