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Knowing the Signs of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a type of cancer that develops in your mouth. It is typically diagnosed in people between the ages 55 and 64 years, and it occurs more often in men than women. It is estimated that oral cancer will make up about 3 percent of all cancers diagnosed in 2017.

Oral cancer may show up as an unusual lump or spot on your lips, the roof of your mouth, under or on the front part of your tongue, along the gumline or the floor of the mouth, or on the lining of your cheeks – places you can see when you look in the mirror.

When oral cancer is found early and treated—before it has time to spread to other areas of the body—the five-year survival rate nearly doubles.

You are the expert on what your mouth usually looks and feels like and may be the first to notice something unusual such as:

  • A sore or irritation that does not go away within three weeks;
  • Red or white patches;
  • A lump;
  • Rough spots on normally smooth areas.

Any of these could be a sign of oral cancer. Or you may notice other symptoms that might signal a need for a closer look. These can include unexplained ear pain or throat trouble such as tenderness or numbness. In addition, hoarseness when you talk could be a sign of cancer in your throat, an area your dentist cannot see during a general examination. Be sure to tell your dentist if you have experienced any of these.

Regular Dental Visits

Seeing your dentist regularly is key to maintaining good oral health. Your dentist can tell you when to come back for regularly scheduled appointments. As part of your examination, your dentist can look and feel in and around your mouth. Often during an examination, no unusual lumps or sores are found. However, your dentist could find a lump or sore that calls for a closer look. If so, he or she may want to refer you to a specialist, keep an eye on it him/herself, or provide some treatment to see if it goes away. If it does not heal in a reasonable amount of time, your dentist may suggest that you have a biopsy. During a biopsy, a sample of the area will be taken for a more detailed look at the tissue. In some cases, your dentist may think that it would be best to have a biopsy right away, without waiting to see if the lump or sore goes away.


It may seem scary but having a biopsy is the best way to find out what is going on with lumps or sores that seem out of place. Evaluating any of these unusual findings is important; early detection increases the chances for a good outcome.

Taking Charge

Oral cancer is not common. Despite that, you should be aware of the signs and work with your dentist to know the next steps if something unusual develops. Picking up on something unusual in your mouth and having a biopsy, if necessary, are important ways you can catch cancer early, which can double the five-year survival rate. FBN


By Bryan J. Shanahan, DDS


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