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What are the Different Mouth Cancer Symptoms?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Mouth cancer is a general term for any one of the oral cancers that effect the lips, tongue, inside the mouth, throat, or the cheeks. These cancers are linked by type and location, and many of the symptoms are the same. Common mouth cancer symptoms include swelling, the development of discolored patches in the mouth and throat, changes in the form and shape of the mouth, and unexplained bleeding. Many of the conditions can occur on their own and not be cancer-related, but when symptoms last for more than two weeks they should be checked by a doctor or dentist.

Changes in the shape of the mouth can be one of the most telltale of mouth cancer symptoms. This can include swelling of the lips or gums, thickening of areas in the mouth, the development of rough spots or crusty areas, or lumps in any of the soft tissues. For those who wear dentures, plates that go from fitting properly to not sitting right can indicate such a change. For others, there may be a shift in the way teeth sit, including a sudden gap or overlap in teeth. Teeth can even become loose.

Discolorations in the mouth, cheeks, lips and tongue can also be a sign that something is wrong. Patches of odd coloration can be pure white, white spotted with red, or an unnatural-looking red color. Off-color areas can be sore, or show no other signs that anything is wrong. Sometimes, these areas can be accompanied by other symptoms. Mouth cancer symptoms can also appear in the rest of the body, and include a dramatic and noticeable weight loss without a change in diet or exercise.

Perhaps the most noticeable of mouth cancer symptoms can be chronic pain or tenderness not only in the mouth, lips, and tongue, but also in the face and neck. This soreness can be accompanied by a feeling of being unable to swallow, or the sensation that there is something lodged at the back of the throat. It can also spread to other areas, and result in difficulty opening or closing the jaw or difficulty swallowing. Sometimes there are lumps that develop in the face and neck, or along the inside of the mouth.

A routine visit to the dentist often includes a brief examination for any of these mouth cancer symptoms. While many are accompanied by pain, some are not and are easier to overlook. Finding symptoms early can help prevent the progression and spread of the disease; the first step to doing so is routine and through oral care at home.

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