What are Some Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Oral cancer, or cancer of the oral cavity, tongue, pharynx, or lips, occurs in over 34,000 cases per year in the United States alone. It is estimated that 75% of all head and neck cancers begins in the mouth. For this reason, it is important to have routine oral screenings by either your doctor or dentist, as well as recognize the symptoms of oral cancer so that early discovery, diagnosis and treatment can be made.

While the symptoms of oral cancer can mimic the symptoms of other diseases and conditions, the following symptoms should be addressed with your doctor or dentists.

A sore or lesion anywhere in the mouth that is present for more than two weeks without healing. Similarly, white or red patches on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or anywhere else in the mouth should also be examined by a doctor. If you have difficulty swallowing or chewing or difficulty or discomfort moving the jaw or tongue, this could be an early sign of oral cancer. A sore throat, coupled with gagging or a feeling like something is stuck in the throat are also symptoms that should be checked.

Lastly, numbness of any area of the mouth such as the tongue or swelling of the jaw, as well as noticeable thickening or the formation of lumps in the cheek, along with excessive bleeding of the gums or mouth are all potential symptoms of oral cancer.


If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor or dentist. While some symptoms could be a sign of another oral disease or another condition, it is better to confirm symptoms than to wait to see if they disappear on their own. As with most cancers, the success rate of treatment is directly related to the stage at which it is diagnosed. Early detection is key to successful treatment.

If oral cancer is suspected, your doctor will most likely order a biopsy for confirmation. An incisional biopsy is a simple procedure in which a doctor removes a small portion of tissue for microscopic examination to look for abnormal, malignant cells. Dentists can also perform an oral brush biopsy, a procedure that requires no incision, but can detect oral cancer. Some dentists perform oral brush biopsies as a part of routine oral cancer screenings.

Risk factors associated with oral cancer include age and gender, as it is a condition that develops more frequently in men and in people over the age of 40. Tobacco smoke and “smokeless” tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, are known to cause oral cancer and when combined with alcohol use, can create a greater risk factor. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is also an indicator of increased risk for developing oral cancer.



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