Squamous cell carcinoma (oral cavity)

Dr Tim Luijkx and A.Prof Frank Gaillard et al.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity is the most common (by far) of the malignant lesions affecting this region. 

As they share epidemiology, pathology and general principles with other squamous cell carcinomas of the upper aerodigestive tract, those topics are covered there. Below are a few general comments specific to the oral cavity. Imaging findings, treatment and prognosis are sometimes subsite-specific and are therefore in some cases discussed separately:

Epidemiology and risk factors are similar to squamous cell carcinomas elsewhere in the upper aerodigestive tract, with tobacco smoking and alcohol ingestion being major risk factors.

Of note, the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) as an etiological factor for squamous cell carcinoma is strongest oral cavity (compared to other regions in the head and neck), with HPV DNA isolated from up to 50% of cases, and thought responsible for the tumor in over half of these 1-3.

Over 75% of oral cavity SCCs occur in the lower lip, oral tongue, and floor of mouth 4.

A common staging system is used for all squamous cell carcinomas of the oral cavity, with tumor staging being based on size and extension into adjacent structures. Nodal staging is the same as that used for SCCs of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx (see: staging of oral cavity squamous cell carcinomas).

The differential diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity is essentially that of other malignant lesions of the oral cavity as well as a few non-neoplastic lesions. It therefore includes:

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Article information

rID: 9615
System: Head & Neck
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of oral cavity
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1: tongue SCC
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  • Case 2: buccal mucosal SCC
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  • Case 3: floor of mouth
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  • Case 4: buccal mucosa
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