Skin Cancer on the Lip is Especially Dangerous

Skin Cancer on the Lip is Especially Dangerous

Skin cancer on the lips is especially dangerous and you need to know that. Lip skin is fragile, can't really protect itself from UV rays and lip cancer can be surprisingly aggressive. It's also not uncommon.

A recent medical study just published showed that skin cancer on the lip is five times more likely to be aggressive compared with the same cancer on the skin around the lip.

The cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma. Sun exposure is the most common cause of this type of skin cancer.

Are You Sun-Protecting Your Lips?

It’s important. Let this study be a reminder.

Study authors state that squamous cell skin cancers on the lips were more likely to spread to lymph nodes. This means the cancer cells have started to spread deeply into the body. Normally, squamous cell cancers on the skin have a low risk of spreading (only about 1.5% metastasize). On the lip, the risk was 7.6%.

As a dermatologist who has treated skin cancer for 30 years, I’ve known this. Lips are one of the worst areas to get a skin cancer. Other higher risk sites include the ears. Squamous cell skin cancer isn’t the most common skin cancer type; basal cell carcinoma is.

Squamous cell skin cancer is really important though for two reasons:

  • It has a higher risk of spreading, and
  • It is almost totally due to sun exposure, meaning it's preventable!

What does skin cancer on the lip look like?

  • A sore that won’t go away.

  • A white patch or a scaly patch.

  • A split that won't heal from what you think is chronically-chapped lips.

  • An ulcer.

  • A raised nodule or lump.

Any odd spot on your lip that does not go away should be shown to a doctor skilled in skin cancer recognition, such as a dermatologist.

To help protect yourself and your family from getting lip skin cancer, remember to wear sunscreen and sun protect your lip skin! I know it’s easy to forget.

How many times have you put sunscreen on your facial skin and not thought about applying an SPF lip sunscreen?

You need special sunscreen products for your lips.

What’s on your lips gets ingested. It also gets licked and sipped off! Lip products bind better, should be in food-grade bases and you need to reapply them often because they wear off as you talk, drink, lick, and use your lips. Lips are busy and protecting them needs to be a priority.

What products do I trust for lip sun protection as a dermatologist?

VaniCream SPF 30 Lip Protectant with 15% zinc oxide, 1.5% titanium dioxide and dimethicone to help it stay put. 

Protect your lips!

To help lips heal and stay free from chapping when you are NOT in the sun, use my Natural Lip Balm. It is fragrance-free and made with organic ingredients. This will help you have lips free from sores that worry you for early signs of skin cancer.

best natural lip balm to heal lips

All lip products should be hypoallergenic and non-toxic. These three products are. Lip care is 24/7/365.

Good thing lip products are easy to stick in your pocket, purse or backpack!


Wang DM, Kraft S, Rohani P, et al. Association of Nodal Metastasis and Mortality With Vermilion vs Cutaneous Lip Location in Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Lip. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(6):701–707. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.0792 

Alam, Murad MD, Ratner Desiree MD, Cutaneous Squamous-Cell Carcinoma, N Engl J Med 2001; 344:975-983, March 29, 2001