Oral Cancer: Signs You Can Spot at Home

oral cancer exam

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. If you aren’t familiar with oral cancer, it’s crucial to know the signs and symptoms of this potentially devastating disease. Dentists and oral surgeons are the first line of defense in treating oral cancer, which can develop anywhere in or around the mouth, including the lips, gums, tongue, under the tongue, lining of the cheeks, and the roof of the mouth.

Oral Cancer Statistics

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, there are over 54,000 incidences of oral cancer diagnosed in the United States every year. Because oral cancer often goes unnoticed until it is advanced, the death rate for oral cancer is higher than for many other cancers, including cervical cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your doctor, dentist, or oral surgeon detect oral cancer early, when it is highly treatable with positive outcomes.

Detecting Oral Cancer

Early detection of oral cancer is crucial to early detection and treatment. You are checked for signs of oral cancer when you see a dentist or one of our oral surgeons. Twice-yearly dentist visits are essential to dental health and monitoring your oral cavity for cancer symptoms. If signs of possible oral cancer are spotted during your oral cancer screening, immediate action is taken to biopsy and treat the area.

Possible Signs of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer rarely causes pain, which is one reason many individuals miss or ignore the early signs. The best way to prevent oral cancer from developing is to recognize the painless signs of early cancer and have them checked by an oral surgeon as soon as possible. Performing an at-home oral exam when you are brushing your teeth is the best way to spot areas of concern, including:

  • Flat, white, or grey patches in the mouth that do not go away
  • Red patches, either raised or flat, in the mouth. These may bleed if irritated
  • A sore on the lip or inside the mouth that doesn’t heal
  • Loose teeth with no known cause
  • Lumps or unusual growths in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Numbness or pain in the mouth or cheeks (pain is less common)

How to Do a Monthly Oral Cancer Self-Exam

A monthly self-exam can reduce the chance oral cancer will spread and dramatically improve treatment results. Each month, do a thorough self-exam following these steps:

  • Probe your lips, gums, and the roof of the mouth for abnormalities
  • Feel along your jaw for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes
  • Using a mirror, look at the roof of the mouth, gums, and the interior of the cheeks
  • Look at the top, bottom, and sides of the tongue and under the tongue
  • Look for any red or white patches that are not healing
  • Check for sores on the lips or at the corners of the mouth

Am I at Risk for Oral Cancer?

Anyone can develop oral cancer, but some habits put you at risk. Nearly 75% of people who develop oral cancer fall  into one or more of these categories:

  • Using tobacco, whether smoking, chewing, or dipping snuff
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Not using sunblock on the lips
  • Oral cancer in one or more family members
  • Having HPV (human papillomavirus)

What Do I Do If I Have Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

If you have any of the symptoms above, an appointment with our office should be your next step. A thorough examination of your oral cavity and a biopsy can determine whether it is oral cancer or something else. When caught early, oral cancer is highly treatable using a variety of treatment modalities, including excision, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

If you have signs of oral cancer or would like an oral cancer screening, please get in touch with our office at Flushing NY Office Phone Number 347-943-1960.