Lip Cancer Symptoms

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Lip Cancer

woman looking at sore on bottom lip
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Lip cancer symptoms can be nonspecific and similar to that of less serious conditions. As with any disease, early detection is key, so it is important to report any symptoms to your doctor. What is lip cancer? Lip cancer is a type of oral cancer that occurs when malignant cells develop in the lips.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer can start any place in the body. It starts when cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells.

This makes it hard for the body to work the way it should and causes problems in the part of the body where the cancer started.

Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body. For instance, cancer cells in the lung can travel to the bones and grow there. When cancer cells spread, it’s called metastasis. When lung cancer spreads to the bones, it’s still called lung cancer. To doctors, the cancer cells in the bones look just like the ones from the lung. It’s not called bone cancer unless it started in the bones.

Some cancers grow and spread fast. Others grow more slowly. They also respond to treatment in different ways. Some types of cancer are best treated with surgery; others respond better to drugs called chemotherapy. Often two or more treatments are used to get the best results.

When someone has cancer, the doctor will want to find out what kind of cancer it is. People with cancer need treatment that works for their type of cancer.

Lip Cancer Symptoms

The most common symptom of lip cancer is a sore, lesion, or ulcer usually on the lower lip, that does not heal. Some people experience painful and/or bleeding sores. A sore can develop on the outside of the lips or on the inner fold. Lip cancer develops more often on the lower lip, but can occur on the upper lip as well.

What to Expect at the Doctor If You Have Lip Cancer Symptoms

At the doctor's office, your doctor will visually examine the sore or lesion. He will want to know how long you have had it, if it has become worse, and if you suspect anything may have caused it. Eating new foods, biting your lip, medications and other things may cause lip sores.

Ultimately, only a biopsy can rule out lip cancer. Under local anesthesia, the doctor can biopsy the area in the office. Pain is minimal and usually subsides in one to two days. Advanced or complex cases may require general anesthesia or sedation. In addition, children who require biopsies may be given general anesthesia.


American Cancer Society.