Buccal mucosa starts in the inner cheek of your mouth but can spread throughout your body. Early symptoms are sores, raised patches and bleeding in your mouth. Tobacco and alcohol use are the main risk factors for this condition. Surgery is usually the primary treatment.
The buccal mucosa extends from the inside of your lips and cheeks to just behind your last teeth. It’s a soft, wet mucous membrane that’s made up of several layers of tissue. Its main function is to support your mouth when you’re eating and chewing. It also provides a barrier against infections and chemicals in your diet.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that make up the top layer of the buccal mucosa. Early buccal mucosa cancer that only involves this top layer is called carcinoma in situ. As the cancer progresses, it can become invasive, penetrating into deeper tissues and spreading to other parts of your body. This is called metastatic cancer.
Other types of buccal mucosa cancer are much less common and include:
The American Cancer Society estimates there are about 15,000 new cases of cancers of the mouth each year. This includes buccal mucosa cancer, as well as other cancers of the teeth, gums and roof of the mouth.
The risk of oral cancer increases with age. It’s more common in people over 40.
Early signs of buccal mucosa cancer include symptoms in your mouth that last for two weeks or more. These can include:
If the cancer grows larger or spreads to the surrounding tissues in your mouth or lymph nodes, you may notice:
Exposure to harmful substances causes this type of cancer. This can include:
The human papilloma virus (HPV) may also cause buccal mucosa cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus and some strains of it can cause cancers in the genital area and back of the throat. Its role in mouth cancers, including buccal mucosa, isn’t as clear.
Other factors that may increase your risk of buccal mucosa cancer are:
Your dentist may be the first to notice changes in your buccal mucosa tissue during a routine checkup. If your dentist suspects cancer, they’ll refer you to a healthcare provider for further testing, including:
The grade of a cancer tumor is based on the results of the biopsy. A biopsy assesses the shape and structure of the cells compared to surrounding normal, healthy cells:
Grades of buccal mucosa cancer include:
Cancer staging uses categories to help your healthcare provider understand how severe the cancer is and how to treat it. These categories include:
Stages range from 1 to 4. A stage 1 tumor is small, with no lymph node involvement or metastases. Higher stages include different combinations of the categories listed above.
Your healthcare provider will develop a treatment plan based on your diagnosis and the cancer grade and stage.
Surgery is usually the primary treatment for this type of cancer. Your surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible. Surgeons use techniques that aim to minimize harm to surrounding tissues and protect the functioning of your mouth.
Your provider may recommend additional therapies after surgery to prevent the tumor from returning, including:
You can prevent buccal mucosa cancer by avoiding heavy alcohol use, quitting smoking and discontinuing use of other tobacco products.
Routine dental visits can also help you detect any changes in the lining of your mouth early, when cancer is most treatable.
Early detection is essential for this type of cancer. The earlier you detect the cancer, the better your prognosis. But even with early detection, the prognosis for this condition isn’t good.
A study of 30 people with buccal mucosa cancer found 53% of them were alive five years after treatment. In about half of the people, the cancer returned. This is a small study and may not reflect your individual outlook.
Talk to your dentist or healthcare provider if you notice any sores, raised patches or bleeding in your mouth that last longer than two weeks.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Buccal mucosa cancer is a type of cancer that starts in your mouth and can be fatal. Tobacco and alcohol use are the main risk factors for this condition. If you use tobacco or alcohol, talk to your provider about how you can cut back or quit — they can suggest programs and tips for quitting. Early detection of this condition is critical. Visit your dentist regularly and let your dentist or provider know if you have symptoms that don’t go away within two weeks. If you do develop buccal mucosa cancer, your healthcare provider will recommend a treatment plan that will give you the best prognosis possible.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/28/2022.
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