The facts about floor of mouth cancer-what causes it, symptom, and treatment

The facts about floor of mouth cancer-what causes it, symptom, and treatment

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP

Floor-of-mouth cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells that line the floor of the mouth, under the tongue. This cancer most often starts in the squamous cells that cover the oral cavity.

Factors that can make someone at higher risk of developing floor of the mouth cancer include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Tobacco use
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Being of the male sex
  • History of HPV infection


Symptoms of the floor of mouth cancer can vary for each person, but some common symptoms can include:

  • Non-healing sore or ulcer under the tongue
  • Bleeding from the sore or ulcer area
  • Pain in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck
  • Ear pain


The ultimate diagnosis of floor-of-mouth cancer will be made once a biopsy is obtained. When someone is suspected of having the floor of mouth cancer, they will likely have a thorough exam done, in which the tongue and oral cavity will be inspected. A biopsy may be taken for an official diagnosis if a suspicious lesion is seen.

When cancer is confirmed, imaging tests will likely be ordered. Standard imaging tests can include CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, and PET scans. These tests can look to see if cancer cells have spread to other body areas.

Once a diagnosis is made and imaging studies are done, the cancer is given a stage to describe how advanced the cancer is.


The exact treatment for floor-of-mouth cancer will be determined once the diagnosis is made and the cancer stage is known.

Surgery may be recommended for this cancer. The exact surgery that will be required is based on the tumor size and if any lymph nodes have cancer. Surgery may require a large amount of the floor of the mouth to be removed, which may result in reconstructive surgery.

Radiation therapy is a treatment that may be used as well. During radiation, high-energy beams are directed at the cancer cells to kill them.

Chemotherapy is another treatment that may be recommended as well. Chemotherapy is a medication that is given to kill cancer cells. Sometimes chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used at the same time.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a floor of mouth cancer, be sure to talk to your cancer team about the specifics of your cancer. They can help you understand your diagnosis and how best to treat it.

Cancer of the floor of the mouth is relatively rare.  Early diagnosis and treatment are critical for successful outcomes. If you have any symptoms that concern you, please see your doctor as soon as possible. Cancer can be scary, but knowledge is power. The more we understand this disease, the better our chances of beating it.

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Julie is an oncology certified Oncology Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of medical oncology experience. In addition to her clinical work, she is an accomplished healthcare writer providing oncology content for various publications. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member for a Master's nursing program and a chair for Doctoral nursing students.

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