There’s a difference between blood in the saliva and coughing up blood.

There are 3 cancers that can cause blood to be in your saliva. You need not cough to see it.

Blood in the saliva means that if you spit (no coughing, just a voluntary spitting), you may see red.

It also means that you will invariably taste the blood.

There are a number of cancers that cause blood to appear in phlegm that is coughed up, such as lung and esophageal cancer.

Some of this blood, from a mechanical standpoint, may end up retained in your mouth—not all of it will be coughed out. So technically, you’ll have “blood in the saliva.”

But in the absence of coughing it out, here are the three cancers that may cause blood to be in your saliva:

• Mouth/Oral (includes cheeks and gums)
• Pharynx/Throat (includes tonsils, adenoids and uvula)
• Leukemia

“Blood in the mouth/saliva can be from many different sources and most probably, none of them are from cancers,” points out Daniel Vorobiof, MD, former medical oncology director of The Sandton Oncology Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“However, any cancer that occurs in the mouth and is not attended to might ulcerate and stain the saliva bloody,” says Dr. Vorobiof, who also runs the “Ask the Oncologist” forum in Belong.Life, the world’s largest social network for cancer patients.

So in short, if one day you begin tasting blood in your mouth, especially if you’re a nonsmoker and nondrinker, chances are far more likely that it is not from cancer.

Risk Factors for Mouth/Oral Cancer

• Age; average age of diagnosis is 62.

• Lack of fruits and vegetables

• Genetic mutations

• Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco (80 percent of patients)

• Drinking (70 percent of patients are heavy drinkers)

• HPV infection (25 percent of patients)

• Immunosuppressant prescription drugs

• Unproven risk factors: mouthwash and irritation from dentures

Risk Factors for Pharynx/Throat

• Lack of fruits and vegetables

• High salt/sodium diet

• Smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and chewing tobacco

• Heavy drinking

• Asbestos exposure

• HPV infection


Risk Factors for Leukemia

• Increasing age (except for “ALL” leukemia)

• Family history

• Smoking cigarettes

• Radiation exposure (such as from power lines, atomic bomb explosion)

• Chemical exposure (e.g., pesticides, benzene)

• Previous cancer treatment in the form of chemotherapy or radiation

Remember, blood in the saliva doesn’t always mean cancer. It also has benign causes including gingivitis, ulcers in the mouth, cut in the gum or on the tongue, recent dental work, aggressive flossing or not having flossed for a while, and nosebleed.

Dr. Vorobiof has authored more than 100 peer reviewed articles in international medical journals.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 
Top image: Shutterstock/oneinchpunch
Sources: and symptoms of soft palate cancer