If oral cancer spreads

Cancer cells can spread from the mouth to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis.

Understanding how a type of cancer usually grows and spreads helps your healthcare team plan your treatment and future care. Oral cancer can spread differently depending on where in the mouth it starts. If oral cancer spreads, it can spread to the following:

  • other parts of the mouth
  • muscle surrounding the mouth
  • lymph nodes in the neck (called cervical lymph nodes)
  • bone surrounding the mouth (the upper or lower jawbone)
  • skin on the face
  • salivary glands
  • liver
  • lung
  • distant bone, such as the base of the skull or the spine
  • brain

Expert review and references

  • Oral cavity and oropharyngealCancer. American Cancer Society. Oral Cavity Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2011: https://www.cancer.org/.
  • Barnes L, Eveson JW, Reichart P, Sidransky D . Pathology and genetics of head and neck tumours. World Health Organization Classification of Tumours. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); 2005.
  • Koch WM, Stafford E, Chung C, Quon H . Cancer of the oral cavity. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS. Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 16A:335-356.
  • Mendenhall WM, Werning JW, Pfister DG . Cancer of the head and neck. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 38: 422-473.
  • NCI . What you need to know about oral cancer. National Cancer Institute. National Cancer Institute (NCI). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2009: http://www.cancer.gov.
  • Scully C. Medscape Reference: Cancers of the Oral Mucosa. 2016.