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Jaw Tumors and Cysts

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons at UCSF Medical Center evaluate, diagnose and treat the full spectrum of cysts and tumors in and around the jaw and structures of the teeth. These include benign tumors and cysts, which are non-cancerous; those that are aggressive and growing, with the potential to become cancerous; and tumors that are malignant, meaning that they are cancerous. Our oral and maxillofacial surgeons also treat oral cancer, severe infections of the oral cavity, salivary glands, jaw and neck.

Because the mouth and jaws are composed of many different types of tissues, such as bone, muscle, glands and mucosa (the tissue that covers the cheeks, lips and gums), they are more susceptible to developing abnormal growths than other parts of the body.

Although tumors and cysts of the jaw can affect anyone, a number of risk factors have been identified that increase a person's chance of developing them. The main risk factors are tobacco and alcohol use. Others include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures, rough surfaces on teeth and poor nutrition.

Symptoms may include:

  • Reddish patches, called erythroplasia
  • Whitish patches, called leukoplakia
  • A sore that does not heal and bleeds easily
  • A lump or thickening of the tissues
  • Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  • Difficulty in chewing or swallowing

When making a diagnosis of your jaw tumor or cyst, your oral and maxillofacial surgeon will start by asking about your medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination of your mouth, jaws and teeth.

Tests that are used to confirm a diagnosis include CT scans, MRI scans of the head and biopsies.

Treatment will depend on whether your tumor or cyst is benign or malignant. Our oral and maxillofacial surgeons offer the full range of surgical techniques for pathologies of the jaw that aim to remove the tumor or cyst. In addition to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy also may be recommended for treatment if your tumor is cancerous.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.