Gum Cancer Treatment

What are my options for gum cancer treatment?

Surgery and radiation are the most common gum cancer treatment options. More advanced cases may require chemotherapy, but this is less common. The treatment option or options recommended by your doctor will primarily depend on your overall health, the stage and the location of the tumor.

Surgery- Surgery is usually performed to remove a small tumor and any other nearby tissue that may have been affected by the cancer cells. Removing all or part of the jaw bone is a potential gum cancer treatment option. You may experience some pain and discomfort following surgery but most of it can be controlled with medication. Swelling and fatigue are also common side effects, but they go away as your body heals. If larger tumors are removed reconstructive surgery is sometimes needed to rebuild the removed bone or tissue. Talking, chewing and swallowing may be affected. Here are some questions the National Cancer Institute recommends you ask your doctor before surgery:

  • Why do you recommend surgery to remove my tumor? What are the risks of surgery?
  • What is the goal of surgery?
  • Will I have trouble swallowing, eating, or speaking?
  • Will any other tissue or lymph nodes need to be removed?
  • How will I feel after surgery?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • How will my pain be controlled?
  • Will I need reconstructive surgery?
  • Will I lose my teeth? If so, how soon can they be replaced?
  • What will the treatment cost? Will my insurance cover this cost?
  • How will the surgery affect my daily life and activities?

Radiation Therapy– For radiation therapy high-energy rays are used to kill the cancer cells and/or shrink the size of a tumor. Radiation may be used for the main gum cancer treatment, but it has potential to damage the jaw bone. Radiation is sometimes added after surgery for gum cancer treatment if all the cancer was not removed. The more radiation given, the greater your risk for side effects. Ulcers, inflammation, dry mouth, tooth decay, cavities, sore and bleeding gums, mouth infection, stiff jaw and ill fitting dentures are all common side effects of radiation. Some of the questions the National Cancer Institute recommends you ask your doctor about radiation for gum cancer treatment include:

  • What is the goal of radiation?
  • When will the radiation treatments begin? When will they end?
  • What are the risks and side effects of radiation? What can I do to control and treat them? Are any of the side effects long term?
  • How will I feel during radiation treatment? What can I do to take care of myself?
  • Will I need to be on a special diet? If so, for how long?
  • Will it affect how my mouth and face will look?

What about dental problems as a result of gum cancer treatment?

Gum cancer treatment often leads to other dental problems. It is important that your mouth is in good condition before you begin treatment and you should also have regularly scheduled checkups with your dentist during and after treatment. The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends that you visit your dentist two weeks before you begin treatment for a consultation on how to maintain optimal dental health. Teeth and gums are often treated with a fluoride treatment before radiation to prevent tooth decay and reduce the damage to the gums. If you wear dentures your dentist will help evaluate them for a proper fit and adjust them as needed to prevent injury to the mouth and gums.

Dentists often recommend that gum cancer patients gently brush their teeth with an extra-soft toothbrush and use toothpaste with fluoride after every meal and before bed. Dentist also recommend that radiation patients rinse their mouths several times a day with a mix of ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon of salt dissolved in one cup of warm water. It is also recommended that you avoid, acidic, spicy, and crunchy foods as well as tobacco and alcohol because they can cause additional damage to your teeth and gums.

Links to all our gum cancer pages:

Because gum cancer is rare, not as much research and information exists for it as it does for other types of oral cancer. We recommend you visit our oral cancer links as well for a more in depth explanation of all facets of oral cancer.


Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed January 4, 2012.

Treatment. The Oral Cancer Foundation. Accessed January 18, 2012.

What you need to know about oral cancer. National Cancer Institute. Accessed January 8, 2012.

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    All content on this site is for general information purposes only. It is not and should not be considered medical advice or used in place of the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a doctor or other professional for any medical condition.