What are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, oral cancer takes the life of one person every hour in the United States. Of those people who are diagnosed, only about half of them will survive.

Aside from brain cancer, oral cancer comprises over 3/4 of all cancers affecting the head and neck.

Why is oral cancer so deadly? Because it’s usually not diagnosed until it’s reached an aggressive stage. By that point, it will metastasize to other areas of your body.

What to Look For

During your oral cancer exam, your dentist or hygienist will be visually assessing and physically palpating areas like the insides of your cheek, sides of the tongue, floor of the mouth, back of the mouth/throat, and lymph nodes in your neck.

Some of the most noticeable symptoms of oral cancer include:


  • Sores that don’t heal in a timely manner
  • Lumps or bumps on one side of your mouth
  • Fixed nodules under your skin
  • Atypical growths
  • Loss of the “border” around your lip lines
  • Red, white, or spotty areas
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sunken in areas


Notice that pain and discomfort aren’t on the list. Since oral cancer doesn’t usually hurt, it’s easy to overlook.

It’s important to look inside your mouth regularly (while you’re brushing and flossing is fine) to take note of any areas that don’t look like they should. When something appears abnormal, watch it for 10-14 days to see if it improves. If it doesn’t, schedule a visit with your dentist as soon as you can.


Who to See for Help

Your dental team is a go-to source for oral cancer screenings and diagnosis. As experts when it comes to oral anatomy, dentists can help to put your mind at ease if it’s a false alarm, make appropriate diagnosis regarding your condition, and guide you to the next steps to take if cancer treatment is necessary.


Regular oral cancer screenings can save your life. The best person to perform these evaluations is your dentist, because of how attentive they are to your intraoral and extraoral anatomy, having been able to evaluate it twice per year if you schedule regular checkups.


Some dental offices use advanced oral cancer screening systems, which pinpoint abnormal tissues on a cellular level, before they’re visible to the naked eye. The process generally involves a special rinse and light, which illuminates cells that differ from the healthy ones around them.


If precancerous or abnormal tissues are observed, they may be monitored, or a biopsy taken. Once the results of your brush or punch biopsy return, you can get a referral to an oncologist or oral surgeon as needed.


When Was Your Last Oral Cancer Screening?

Is your dentist performing an oral cancer exam at each checkup? If they aren’t, you need to be visiting an oral health provider who takes pathological screenings into account during your visits.


If it’s been longer than six months since your last appointment or oral cancer exam, book a checkup with a Kois dentist today.