Oral cancer can start in any part of the mouth including the outside of the lips. The earliest signs of oral cancer can be mistaken for anything from a cold sore to a toothache so it’s important that if symptoms persist for longer than 7-10 days, you make an appointment with your dentist. As with any cancer, the earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome.

Symptoms include:

  • A persistent mouth sore: A sore in the mouth that does not heal (the most common symptom)
  • Pain: Persistent mouth pain is another common oral cancer sign
  • A lump or thickening in the cheek
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
  • A sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat that does not go away
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue or elsewhere in the mouth
  • Jaw swelling that makes dentures hurt or fit poorly
  • Loosening of the teeth
  • Pain in the teeth or jaw
  • Voice changes or hoarseness
  • A lump in the neck
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent bad breath

Anyone can develop oral cancer but there are some risk factors worth considering. Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women. Most people diagnosed are over the age of 55. Cancer of the lips is more common for those that spend prolonged amounts of time outside exposed to ultraviolet light. 80% of the cases of oral cancer involve the use of tobacco. About 70% of oral cancer cases involve heavy alcohol users. For those that use tobacco and drink heavily, estimates are even higher.

Those who use tobacco products and/or drink heavily should consider a self-oral exam at least once a month. Look for any white patches/spots, red spots or sores in your mouth. Pay close attention to the floor of the mouth and sides of your tongue which are the most common areas for oral cancer to develop. Note any unexplained swelling in your mouth, throat or neck that do not go away. Look for any lumps or sores on the lips. If you note any changes, follow up with another assessment in 7-10 days. Any signs or symptoms still remaining after that time, should be followed up on with an appointment to your dentist.