Oral Cancer Symptom Page

© 2014 by Kate Parker, RDH, BS-DH, RF

oral cancer symptomDo you think you might have an oral cancer symptom?

Do you think you or someone you know may have an oral cancer symptom? Usually patients come in with concerns that turn out to be completely harmless. However, the detection of oral cancer occurs a few times per year in many oral health professional's careers, so it is something that should be taken seriously. As a rule of thumb, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

  • The death rate for oral cancer is higher than for other forms of cancer such as Hodgkin's lymphoma and malignant melanomas

This is not necessarily because oral cancer is difficult to detect, but more likely because these symptoms are only problematic in the later stages of disease. Often people ignore mouth cancer symptoms until it's too late.

Many dental offices have begun conducting oral cancer screenings on each patient at each appointment, but this is unfortunately not yet the norm. When caught in the early stages, many oral cancers respond well to treatment. Therefore it is of utmost importance to familiarize yourself with the following oral cancer symptom list and follow up on anything suspicious.

Oral Cancer Symptom Identification

oral cancer symptomSores or lesions that don't heal

Dentists and dental hygienists will often take a look free of charge, as most cases turn out to be normal anatomy or variations of normal.

However, sometimes it does turn out to be something we would like to take a closer look at.

If this is the case, often a brush biopsy will be taken to help determine the lesion's histology. The oral health professional will then come to a definitive diagnosis based on these histological findings.

Note: If you believe you have any single mouth cancer symptom listed below, seek the advice of a dental health professional right away. While it may be a normal finding, when dealing with cancer, it's better to be safe than sorry.


Mouth cancer symptom list:

  • Swelling, lumps, bumps, or new growths that are only found on one side of the face
  • Sores or lesions that don't heal within two weeks
  • An open sore that persists for two weeks and though once painless, becomes painful
  • White, opaque, red, black, or brown patches that persist or grow
  • Excessive or spontaneous bleeding or pus coming out of an oral lesion
  • Difficulty swallowing, not associated with illness or swollen lymphnodes
  • Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
  • Noticeable pain when moving the tongue or jaw
  • The feeling that something is always caught in your throat, unresolved by swallowing
  • Continuous pain in the ear
  • Headache or migraine that persists

Mouth Cancer Causes

mouth cancer causesMany factors increase the likelihood of developing mouth and other cancers

Anyone can get oral cancer, though certain factors increase the likelihood of developing oral, lingual, oropharyngeal, thyroid, and other forms of head and neck cancers.

An oral cancer symptom in someone with HIV or in someone who smokes should be taken more seriously than in someone with perfect systemic and oral health. That said, anyone can develop oral cancer.

  • Remember that oral cancer can affect people who otherwise appear free from disease

The more factors from the list that are present, the increased likelihood of developing mouth and other cancers.

Contributing factors to developing oral cancers:

  • Current tobacco smoker or history of smoking (there is no time limit even if you quit many years ago)
  • Chronic heavy use of alcohol (ie alcoholism)
  • Current smokeless tobacco user or history of using smokeless tobacco
  • Habitual use of betel nut (areca nut) leaves
  • Oral STDs
  • Viruses
  • HIV, AIDS, or other immunosuppressive diseases
  • X-ray or radiation exposure
  • Environmental toxins
  • Chronic oral or systemic inflammation
  • Chronic irritation or allergy of oral mucosal tissues (tissues lining the mouth)
  • Chronically acidic oral and systemic pH
  • Chronically acidic diet or acidic habits
  • Genetics
  • Aging

Oral Cancer And Dental Health

oral cancer symptomThe risk of developing cancer increases as oral hygiene decreases

Oral cancer and dental health are often, but not always, connected. Generally any chronic inflammation in the body can eventually cause serious consequences down the road. 

  • Though oral cancers can develop in people who otherwise have good oral hygiene and visit the dentist regularly, the risk of developing cancer increases as oral hygiene decreases

Poor oral hygiene generally leads to chronic oral disease, often resulting in systemic inflammation. Chronic infections, irritations, allergic reactions, and inflammation in the mouth can contribute to an over-taxed immune system and the likelihood that cancerous cells may develop.

These factors, in combination with others such as diet, oral and systemic pH, genetics, and environmental toxins, help determine whether head and neck cancers develop.

Note: If you believe you have any single oral cancer symptom listed above, seek the advice of a dental health professional right away.


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