Jaw bone cancer can affect the bones of the upper or lower jaw. Cancer from another part of the mouth may spread into the bones, or the tumor may begin in the bone itself.

Jaw bone cancer may involve one of several types of tumors, including carcinomas and sarcomas. People who use tobacco and alcohol are at higher risk of developing cancers of the mouth. Avoiding these lifestyle habits may help prevent the condition.

Head and neck cancers are uncommon, accounting for 4% of all cancers in the United States. Treatment usually involves surgical removal of the tumor, unless a person cannot undergo surgery. There may also be a need to remove part of the jaw.

This article explains jaw bone cancer, including symptoms, causes, and treatment. It will also detail the outlook for those with jaw bone cancer and ways to help prevent the condition from occurring.

jaw boneShare on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

A person with jaw bone cancer develops a malignant tumor on their mandible, lower jaw bone, or maxilla, which is the hard palate or upper jaw bone.

Jaw bone cancer can develop in the bone itself, known as primary bone cancer, or spread from another part of the body, known as secondary bone cancer. However, doctors more commonly find secondary bone cancer in the long bones of the legs and arms, spine, and ribs than in the jaw.


More than 90% of all mouth cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), which usually begin in the lining of the lips and mouth.

A person may develop one of several different types of cancerous jaw tumors, including:

  • ameloblastic carcinoma, which starts in the epithelium that forms tooth enamel
  • clear cell odontogenic carcinoma, which usually starts in the back of the lower jaw
  • primary intraosseous carcinoma, which is another cancer that starts in the epithelium
  • sclerosing odontogenic carcinoma, which is a type of primary bone cancer
  • ghost cell odontogenic carcinoma, which experts think begins with calcifying odontogenic cysts
  • odontogenic carcinosarcoma, which affects both the epithelial cells and stem cells in bone marrow
  • odontogenic sarcomas, which are tumors that are benign in relation to the epithelial cells and malignant in relation to the mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow

One systematic review from 2021 reported that 28.8% of people with jaw cancer have symptoms.

The researchers found that it took an average of 14.8 months of having symptoms before a person received a cancer diagnosis. The reported symptoms included:

  • swelling, with or without pain
  • burning or prickling sensations
  • fever
  • spasms in the muscles of the jaw
  • oral discharge
  • poor wound healing
  • facial deformity

Early detection of mouth cancer can increase a person’s chances of survival from 50% to 90%. It is important for a person to talk with their doctor about any symptoms that do not go away on their own within 3 weeks.

To determine whether a person has bone cancer, a doctor may conduct one or more of a range of assessments and tests. These include:

  • a physical examination to check for an abnormal lump or look for a primary cancer that could have spread into the jaw
  • medical history to fully understand a person’s state of health and symptoms
  • imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans, to get a picture of what is happening inside a person’s body
  • biopsy to remove part or all of a tumor to check whether it is cancer
  • blood tests to check a person’s overall health and test for markers of advanced cancer, including alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase

If a doctor finds it difficult to remove the tumor during examination, this can be a sign that it has grown into the person’s jaw bone. A surgeon may remove all or part of a person’s upper or lower jaw bone if oral cancer has grown into the bone.

In the case of the lower jaw bone, the surgeon will replace the removed part of the jaw bone with a piece of bone from another part of the person’s body, such as the lower leg, hip, or shoulder. Alternatively, some people have a metal plate or a piece of bone from a deceased donor implanted.

When the surgeon removes the affected bone, a person receives a special type of denture for the upper jaw bone to fill the hole left.

If a person’s jaw bone cancer returns or doctors cannot surgically remove the tumor, doctors may recommend chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) details a list of potential risk factors for oral and throat cancer. These include:

  • using tobacco, including smoking and chewing forms
  • drinking alcohol
  • chewing betel quid or gutka, which are substances common in Southeast Asia
  • having human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • being overweight
  • being over 55 years of age
  • having poor nutrition

The ACS says that people who smoke and drink have 30 times the risk of developing cancers of the mouth than people who do smoke or drink.

Certain people have a better chance of surviving jaw bone cancer. This includes those:

  • with no other health conditions
  • who have had the tumor removed
  • whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes

According to recent research, the overall 5-year survival rate in people who have had their jaw bone cancer surgically removed is around 88%. This compares with 26.6% of people who have not had the tumor surgically removed.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer of the mouth, but there are steps a person can take to greatly reduce their risk of developing the disease. The ACS recommends:

  • avoiding alcohol and tobacco
  • avoiding HPV infection
  • limiting UV exposure
  • maintaining a moderate weight and good nutrition
  • having regular dental checkups and any precancerous growths removed

Jaw bone cancer involves developing a cancerous tumor on the lower or upper jaw bone. Potential symptoms include swelling, pain, fever, and oral discharge.

It is important to contact a doctor about any symptoms that do not go away within 3 weeks, as early detection significantly improves outcomes. Treatment most commonly involves surgical removal of the tumor. Avoiding smoking and alcohol can also help to prevent cancers of the mouth.