Symptoms of Mouth Cancer – What are the Signs to Watch For?

Symptoms of Mouth Cancer – What are the Signs to Watch For?

Oral cancer, as with any type of cancer, is most successfully treated if diagnosed early, so it is as well to be aware of the possible danger signs and to know what to look for.

Possibly you don’t look into your mouth very often in order to to know what is its normal appearance but actually its worth taking a few minutes to do so because that way you will be better able to spot any changes in appearance or any particular area which looks different from the rest; and this could be important. Women especially, look at their face in the mirror many times during a day, often applying or re-applying lipstick and other make-up but they rarely check their gums for signs of bleeding or the floor of the mouth or under the tongue for ulcers.

These though could be the early signs of disease of one kind or another.


What to look out for in the mouth

Most cancers of the oral cavity begin in the flat or squamous cells which form the lining of the cheeks, the tongue, the lips, and the floor of the mouth. It is these areas that you should check from time to time in order to verify there are no changes from the normal appearance.


Large oral cancer on tongue

A large tumor on the tongue. Image credit.

Non-healing Ulcer

An ulcer which doesn’t heal within a week or so might indicate a cancerous change and it’s wise to have it checked by your doctor or dentist. Many people get painful ulcers from time to time which may be stress related, (apthous ulcers), and sometimes these can take up to a week to resolve but these are often present in more than one location and usually heal within a week or so. They are painful but not harmful. It is only if an ulcer seems reluctant to heal within a week to ten days that you should see your dentist.

An ulcer which is found under the tongue, is fairly large, and has irregular or slightly raised edges may well be suspect and needs checking. This may be one of the early signs of mouth cancer.


White or Red Patches

Many people get a line of thickening of the lining of the mouth along the inside of the cheek in the region where the upper and lower teeth meet together and this is due simply to increased friction in this area but sometimes one can observe white patches (leukoplakia) in other parts of the inside of the cheek or on the tongue. White patches or red patches (erythroplakia) anywhere inside the mouth may be pre-cancerous and go on to become actually cancerous so should also be checked and monitored.


Other Symptoms

Other possible signs or symptoms of mouth cancer which should be investigated include;

  • chronic pain with no obvious cause,
  • unusual bleeding,
  • a feeling of numbness in a lip or the tongue,
  • a lump or swelling on lip or tongue or in the floor of the mouth,
  • teeth becoming loose or
  • dentures no longer fitting,
  • a change in your voice or speech,
  • a lump in the neck, or
  • a sudden loss of weight.

Any of these might be due to a developing tumor and shouldn’t be ignored.


When mouth cancer spreads it does so primarily through the lymphatic system and can cause a pronounced lump in the neck.

It can also spread to more distant parts of the body and be difficult to spot until an advanced stage.


Here is a useful video summarising some signs to look for:


The best way to ensure early diagnosis in the event of mouth cancer occurring is to inspect the likely areas inside your own mouth once a week or so when you clean your teeth, but also to arrange regular check-ups with your dentist who is able to make a more thorough inspection of your oral cavity and be best placed to decide if any changes warrant further investigation.

Early treatment is the key to successful treatment.


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