What are some common mouth cancer symptoms?
Mouth cancer symptoms are very similar to those for oral cancer, which can include:
- Sores or lesions in the mouth that do not heal and bleed easily for no reason
- Red or white patches on the mouth’s surface
- Constant mouth pain that does not go away
- Lump or mass in the mouth
- Constant ear pain
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, talking or moving your jaw
- Numbness in any area of the mouth
- Swelling in the mouth that causes dentures to fit poorly
- Weight loss as a result of difficulty eating
- Constant bad breath
I have experienced some of these mouth cancer symptoms. What should I do?
If you experience any of these mouth cancer symptoms for longer than two weeks you should visit your doctor or dentist to have them diagnosed and treated. While most mouth cancer symptoms are caused by less serious health and dental problems it is still very important that you visit a doctor or dentist to catch any potential problem early.
Watch this video on mouth cancer symptoms
What sort of tests are done to find, diagnose and stage mouth cancer?
If you exhibit any of the above mouth cancer symptoms your doctor may perform one or more of the below tests to check for mouth cancer.
- Physical exam– During a physical exam the doctor will first asses your general medical health and history. He will then check all areas of your mouth (including the inside of the cheeks, lips, gums, roof and floor of the mouth, and all sides of the tongue) and your neck for any abnormal lumps or sores. He or she will feel the inside and outside of your mouth with a gloved finger and will also look inside your mouth with a long-handled mirror to check for mouth cancer symptoms.
- Endoscopy-A thin, lighted scope is inserted into the mouth to check for possible cancerous spots. The tool may also have the ability to remove tissue samples, which are then checked for cancerous cells.
- Incisional Biopsy– Possible cancerous cells are cut out and looked at in a lab under a microscope by a pathologist (a doctor trained to diagnose disease)
- Exfoliative cytology– Cells are collected from the oral cavity using cotton, a brush or wooden stick and are then put on a glass slide. The sample is covered in a dye so that the cells can be sees under a microscope.
Imaging test are not used to diagnose mouth or other types or oral cancer, but may be used to look for a suspected tumor, to see how far the cancer may have spread, to determine if treatment is successful and to see if the cancer has come back after treatment. The common imaging tests include:
- X-rays– Pictures are taken of your mouth or the inside of your body using energy beams to show if and where the cancer has spread
- MRI– Detailed pictures of the inside of the body are taken using magnetic, radio waves and a computer.
- CT scan or CAT scan– Pictures are taken of the body from different angles using a computer linked to an x-ray machine. It can create detailed images of tissue and organs in your body. A dye may be injected or solution swallowed to help organs and tissue show up more clearly in the pictures.
- PET scan– A type of radioactive sugar is injected into a vein that spreads throughout the body. A scanner then rotates around the body and photographs areas where the sugar is being used. Cancerous tumors use more sugar than normal cells and thus show up brighter during the scan.
The above tests help doctors stage mouth cancer. Knowing the stage is important because it affects the patient’s chance of survival and how the cancer is then treated. Staging of mouth cancer depends on the size of the primary tumor, the extent to which it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to other organs. Once these different factors are assessed the information is collected and combined to given an overall stage of 0, I, II, III, IV. Stage 0 is the lowest and IV is the most dangerous stage. Stage I and II mouth cancer are usually small tumors no bigger than a walnut that have not spread to the lymph nodes. Stage III and IV are usually larger tumors that could be as big as a lime and may have spread to other places in the body.
What if I need more information on mouth cancer and mouth cancer symptoms?
We recommend going to our other pages on mouth cancer to get a well-rounded perspective of the disease and a better understanding of mouth cancer symptoms and how they can affect you.
Lip and oral cavity cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/lip-and-oral-cavity/patient/allpages. Accessed January 5, 2012.
Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/OralCavityandOropharyngealCancer/DetailedGuide/index. Accessed January 4, 2012.