Research into causes, prevention and diagnosis

Researchers want to find out more about the causes of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.

Gene changes

Scientists are looking into changes in genes that may make a cancer develop in the head and neck area. They are interested to know:

  • which gene changes are important
  • how the gene changes affect the immune system 
  • whether this can help develop better treatments in the future

Early research has identified gene changes that might cause head and neck cancer. But these findings need confirming in further studies.


Researchers are looking into new ways of collecting and testing cells from the lining of the mouth. Doctors hope that they can help to diagnose mouth cancer.

Usually doctors take a tissue sample (a biopsy) from the inside of the mouth to diagnose mouth cancer. But some studies are looking at taking biopsies using a soft bristle brush.

Scientists are also using different ways of looking at biopsy samples. Cells can be looked at with: 

  • a computer
  • a microscope
  • a device which shows how they move in an electric field (dielectrophoresis)

Researchers want to see if this improves mouth cancer diagnosis for patients.


Preventing cancer with diet, or with certain drugs or vitamins is called chemoprevention. 


A diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables seems to reduce the risk of mouth cancer. But more information about this is needed. Some studies are looking into the links between diet and cancer. 

Some researchers think that some antioxidant vitamins may help to prevent mouth and oropharyngeal cancer. This is when they are included in a healthy and balanced diet. Vitamin A, C and E are antioxidants. But we don't know for sure whether eating these can help to prevent cancer. 

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

Last reviewed: 
24 May 2018
  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Database
    Accessed May, 2018

  • Genome-wide association analyses identify new susceptibility loci for oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer

    Lesseur and others

    Nature Genetics, 2016. Volume 48(12), pages 1544 to 1550

  • Ultra-deep targeted sequencing of advanced oral squamous cell carcinoma identifies a mutation-based prognostic gene signature

    S Chen and others 

    Oncotarget, 2015. Volume 6, number 20, pages 18066 to 18080

  • The utility of oral brush cytology in the early detection of oral cancer and oral potentially malignant disorders: A systematic review

    H Alsarraf and others 

    Jouranl of Oral Pathology and Medicine, 2018. Volume 47 (2), pages 104 to 116

  • A dielectrophoretic method of discrimination between normal oral epithelium, and oral and oropharyngeal cancer in a clinical setting

    K Graham and others 

    The Analyst, 2015. Volume 7, number 140, (15) pages 5198 to 204


  • Higher carbohydrate intake is associated with increased risk of all-cause and disease-specific mortality in head and neck cancer patients: results from a prospective cohort study

    A Arthur and others 

    International Journal of Cancer, 2018. Mar 31,  doi: 10.1002/ijc.31413

  • Double-blind, randomized phase 3 trial of low-dose 13-cis retinoic acid in the prevention of second primaries in head and neck cancer: Long-term follow-up of a trial of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (C0590)

    A Bhatia and others 

    Cancer, 2017. Volume 123(23), pages 4653 to 4662

  • Natural vitamin C intake and the risk of head and neck cancer: A pooled analysis in the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium

    V Edofonti and others 

    International Journal of Cancer, 2015. Volume 15;137(2), pages 448 to 62

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