If you have never experienced any lesions on your lip, it’s only natural to be concerned about what might be wrong. People sometimes confuse cold sores and lip cancer. Thankfully, there are easy ways to tell the difference between these two conditions.

Cold sores, unlike lip cancer, are brought on by a virus. Blisters of this type, while painful, respond to treatment almost instantly. Fever blisters will typically go away on their own within two weeks. They follow a distinct life cycle, so they’re relatively simple to self-diagnose.

Lip cancer, on the other hand, is primarily caused by external factors, such as prolonged exposure to the sun. While it does have somewhat of a cycle, it will not respond to an over-the-counter cream. This skin condition will get worse as time passes.

We’ll now explain more about each condition in greater detail. You will find out about the different cold sore triggers and causes of each condition, and if the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) can lead to lip cancer.

What are the Critical Symptoms of Lip Cancer?

It’s vital to note that that lip cancer can occur anywhere on the lip, but it’s more likely to affect the lower lip.

The symptoms to recognize and monitor are as follows:

  • The appearance of a blister, lesion, lump, sore, or ulcer that does not go away naturally or with medication. This is a major red flag that the area of concern is not minor.
  • Red or white patches on the lip.
  • Unusual bleeding, such as bleeding without contact.
  • Swelling and/or sensitivity and tingling sensation of the jaw area.

While other symptoms can appear, the four noted above should get your attention and prompt a response. While some forms of lip cancer have no symptoms at all and are usually detected during a routine dental exam, it is essential to act fast.

The main risk factors are sun exposure and prolonged use of tobacco products. If you partake in the use of smokeless tobacco, for example, you should always pay close attention to the condition of your lips and gums.

You can learn about the other symptoms of lip cancer at Skincancer.org.

To summarize:

  • Noting the texture and color of your lips is vital. There are four core symptoms of lip cancer, so being proactive is your best line of defense.[1] Every so often, perhaps once a week, just take a close look at your lips if you are in the sun on a routine basis and/or use tobacco products.
  • Not all forms of lip cancer display symptoms initially. This is another reason why scheduling a routine dental appointment is so important. Just the standard practice of getting your teeth cleaned can keep your mouth and lips healthy and cancer-free.

Can You Get a Melanoma on Your Lip?

Although a melanoma can appear at any spot on the body, the development of a melanoma on the lip itself is unlikely.[2] Melanomas traditionally form on more open areas of skin such as the arms, legs, back, neck, etc. Melanomas often resemble moles or develop from the existence of moles. This is another reason why such an occurrence directly on the lip(s) is not likely.

Melanomas are the most dangerous form of skin cancer. They are usually the byproduct of extreme sun exposure. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun triggers a genetic defect that causes the skin to form malignant tumors. Some people, through genetics, are naturally more predisposed to this form of cancer than others.

It is estimated that roughly 11,000 people in the United States die from melanoma-related skin cancer each year.

To recap:

  • Although melanomas are the deadliest form of skin cancer and can form on any area of the skin, the occurrence of a melanoma directly on the lip is rare.
  • Melanomas are commonly the result of years of intense sun exposure. This form of cancer can form on the skin in a “clean” area or can cause an existing mole to take on new properties thus developing a malignancy.

Can Lip Cancer Be Mistaken for a Cold Sore?

Cold sores and lip cancer have different symptoms and stages. By default, a cold sore can be diagnosed much faster. There are cases where a lip blister is neither a cold sore or cancer, but the existence of a fever blister can be diagnosed within 14 days.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, a man in Australia thought he had a cold sore only to discover he had cancer. While a story of this nature is extremely rare, an occurrence of improper self-diagnosis or medical error is possible. However, the probability of such a scenario is incredibly low. The rarity of this case is likely the only reason it made news in the first place.

If you have a blister on your lip and you are not sure of its origin or what it is, you should consult your physician. You should always be confident that you will receive a proper diagnosis. Knowing what you have, and more importantly, do not have, can give you much-needed peace of mind.

To summarize:

  • The odds of a physician mistaking lip cancer for a cold sore is unlikely. While it could happen during a practice of self-diagnosis, you should take heart that a professional will undoubtedly be able to tell the difference.
  • Although a diagnosis of cancer of the lip will take a while to establish due to extensive testing and a tissue sample, a cold sore diagnosis can be confirmed or eliminated on site.

Do Cold Sores and Lip Cancer Have Similar Triggers?

With the possible exception of sun exposure and tobacco products, lip cancer is caused by only a few variables.[3] Cold sores, on the other hand, can be triggered by as many as 30 different issues.

If you are familiar with the common cold sore triggers, you will likely know that some of the most innocent variables, at least on the surface, can cause a fever blister outbreak. Simple choices such as food or drink selections can activate HSV-1. That is not the case with lip cancer.

To recap:

  • Although incredibly dangerous, only a few variables can cause lip cancer. However, by comparison, an entire index of concerns can lead to cold sores. The emergence of fever blisters also varies from person-to-person based on specific triggers. Sun exposure and tobacco use are the only two primary triggers that have the ability to crossover.

Can HSV-1 Lead to Lip Cancer?

Because the herpes simplex virus and lip cancer have no direct connection, HSV-1 will never become cancer. The current existence of a cold sore on your lip will never develop into a malignant tumor. Your cold sore could develop complications, but it will never become cancer.

HSV-1 is not only born from a virus but is acquired through saliva contamination. This means, in a roundabout way, that you can get it in a similar way to the flu or common cold. Lip cancer, on the other hand, occurs without contact with another individual. This is the core reason why HSV-1 will never become lip cancer.

To summarize:

  • Although potentially similar in appearance during the early stages, a fever blister will never become cancer.
  • Cold sores are born from a virus and can be acquired from an HSV-1 carrier. This exchange does not exist for lip cancer.
  • While your cold sore can be severe and get worse due to an infection, it will never become a malignant tumor.

How to tell the difference between cold sores and lip cancer

Are Recurring Cold Sores a Sign of Cancer?

Recurring cold sores are a sign that the triggers are an ongoing problem in your day-to-day life. In the big picture, recurrent infections are a byproduct of the herpes virus being activated in some way. It is not a sign or increased threat of cancer of the lip.

While regular sore and painful lip blisters can be alarming, multiple cold sore outbreaks have a life independent of each other. Every fever blister outbreak is unique and different. Whether you have one or 25, your situation has nothing to do with lip cancer. Cold sores are not a symbolic precursor to other lip-related health concerns.

By understanding the basics of HSV-1, you can engage in logical reasoning when dealing with the fear of lip cancer. While you should never attempt to self-diagnose, a basic understanding of HSV-1 can calm your worries.

If you don’t spend time in the sun and haven’t used tobacco, the likelihood of developing lip cancer are small. However, if you are engaged in the dating scene the odds of acquiring HSV-1 are quite high. Primarily transferred during a kiss, as many as 80% of the population has HSV-1.

If you have a lip blister that is not responding to OTC treatment, we urge you to visit a physician as soon as possible. The majority of untreated cold sores will go away on their own within two weeks. When treated, they’ll clear up in just days.


Are Canker Sores a Symptom of HIV?

HIV doesn’t cause canker sores, but it can increase their severity and frequency of fluid-filled blisters because of a weakened immune system. Stress, mineral shortages, and acidic meals can trigger canker sores.

What Prescription Medications Are Helpful for Oral Cancer?

Most antiviral medications prescribed for cold sores such as penciclovir or acyclovir are ineffective in treating oral cancer. Cetuximab (Erbitux) is a targeted treatment for oral cancer. Cetuximab blocks a protein found in many healthy cells but more abundant in some cancer cells.

What Is the Difference Between Oral Cancer and Herpes Simplex Virus Type Outbreaks?

Cervical cancer and HPV is linked to type 2 herpes simplex virus. Prostate cancer cells have it. In a hybridization experiment using cervical cancer cell DNA, type 2 herpes simplex virus DNA was identified, however 60% was absent.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

There are several symptoms of oral cancer including: unhealed lip or mouth sores, white or red discoloration patches, loose teeth. sore mouth, itching mouth, earache and trouble swallowing.


  1. Montero PH, Patel SG. CANCER OF THE ORAL CAVITY. Surgical oncology clinics of North America. 2015;24(3):491-508. doi:10.1016/j.soc.2015.03.006.
  2. Sharma Lamichhane N, An J, Liu Q, Zhang W. Primary malignant mucosal melanoma of the upper lip: a case report and review of the literature. BMC Research Notes. 2015;8:499. doi:10.1186/s13104-015-1459-3.
  3. Kerawala C, Roques T, Jeannon J-P, Bisase B. Oral cavity and lip cancer: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines. The Journal of Laryngology and Otology. 2016;130(Suppl 2):S83-S89. doi:10.1017/S0022215116000499.