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Oral cancer is a significant health concern that can affect anyone. Oral cancer can take hold silently without patients noticing and progresses quickly. 

Even though we are advancing in the research of cancer treatment options, there is still no cure for oral cancer. That is why early detection of oral cancer is of utmost importance to get a full recovery. 

In this blog, we understand everything about oral cancer – what it is, its symptoms, risk factors, and when to undergo oral cancer screening. Let’s start with understanding what oral cancer is. 

What is Oral Cancer? 

Oral cancer or mouth cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the tissues of the oral cavity. This includes cancers of the lips, tongue, gums, the lining of the cheeks, the roof and floor of the mouth, tonsils, and throat.

Oral cancer typically begins as a small, painless sore or growth in the mouth, which often goes unnoticed in its initial stages. However, it can progress rapidly, invading surrounding tissues and spreading to other parts of the body if left untreated.

While mouth cancer is not as common as some other types of cancer, its impact can be devastating if not detected and treated early.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

One of the most significant challenges in dealing with oral cancer is that its symptoms are similar to other oral issues, such as canker sores or persistent infections. This makes early diagnosis of oral cancer quite difficult. Here are some symptoms of mouth cancer to look out for:

  1. Persistent Mouth Sores: 

One of the initial signs of mouth cancer is the presence of persistent mouth sores. These sores can be painful and may bleed. If you have recurring mouth ulcers or sores that do not heal for weeks, it can be a sign of underlying disease, including mouth cancer. 

  1. Unexplained Pain in Mouth:

If you have been experiencing unexplained pain or discomfort in your mouth, throat, or neck for an extended period, it is cause for concern. It could be an internal injury or some other dental issue. It’s essential to talk to your dentist and get it checked, as persistent mouth pain can be one of the signs of oral cancer.

  1. Changes in Speech or Swallowing:

Difficulty in speaking clearly or swallowing can be indicative of oral cancer. It is time to schedule an oral cancer screening with your dentist if you feel difficulty swallowing or changes in your ability to pronounce words.

  1. Lumps or rough spots: 

The development of a lump, thickening, or rough spot in the mouth, on the lips, or in the throat is a sign of oral cancer. Any unusual growth in these areas should be examined by a dentist or medical specialist immediately. 

  1. Red or White Patches: 

White or red patches on the lips, tongue, or inside the mouth can be early symptoms of oral cancer. These patches may be painless initially, but if untreated, they can progress quickly, affecting other parts of your mouth. Therefore, get it evaluated if the patches persist for a long time.

  1. Difficulty Moving the Jaw or Tongue: 

One of the early signs of oral cancer is difficulty in moving the jaw or tongue. Although mouth cavities and gum diseases can also cause pain in the jaw, you should not take any risk. If you experience limitations in the movement of your tongue or jaw, check it.

  1. Sore Throat or Hoarseness: 

Chronic sore throat or persistent hoarseness can be symptoms of various conditions, including oral cancer. If your symptoms do not heal even after medication, it’s essential to seek medical attention.

  1. Unexplained Weight Loss: 

While weight loss can be attributed to various factors, unexplained and significant weight loss can be a cause of concern. If you are experiencing weight loss along with other oral cancer symptoms, an oral cancer screening might be good for you. 

Please remember these symptoms are not always a sign of mouth cancer. Many oral diseases and issues have similar symptoms. Instead of panicking, consult your healthcare provider or dentist for a thorough evaluation.  

What is Oral Screening? 

Oral cancer screening is a medical examination to detect mouth cancer or precancerous lesions that could lead to mouth cancer. Doing oral cancer screening is beneficial as it can detect signs of mouth cancer even before it becomes noticeable to the patient. 

Oral cancer screening generally involves a thorough examination of the oral cavity by a healthcare professional.  Oral cancer screening helps in identifying any abnormalities or precancerous lesions in the oral cavity, such as 

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Gums
  • The lining of the cheeks
  • The roof and floor of the mouth
  • The throat

How do healthcare providers diagnose oral cancer?

Your dentist or healthcare provider will perform oral cancer screening to look for signs of oral cancer, such as 

  • Unusual lumps
  • Red or white patches
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Changes in the texture or color of tissues
  • Other abnormalities

In addition to a visual examination, some oral cancer screenings also include additional tests, such as using a special light or dye to highlight suspicious areas. In case your dentist finds any suspicious lesions, he may recommend performing a biopsy.

When Should You Go For Oral Cancer Screening

Regular oral cancer screenings are a proactive way to monitor and protect your oral health. In case you have mouth cancer, detecting it as early as possible is important to increase the chances of successful treatment.  

While not everyone requires regular cancer screenings, you should consider getting an oral cancer screening if:

  1. You are at high risk 

If you have one or more risk factors for oral cancer, you should consider more frequent oral cancer screenings. Some risk factors include: 

  • History of tobacco use, including cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff
  • History of alcohol use
  • Family history of oral cancer
  • Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Prolonged exposure to sun 

Talk to your dentist to figure out if you are at risk of developing mouth cancer. Consider taking preventive measures to reduce your chances of having oral cancer. 

  1. You experience any oral cancer symptoms

If you experience any symptoms that could be related to mouth cancer, it’s crucial to seek an immediate evaluation. While not all symptoms could be cancer, it is important to get checked by professionals. 

If you have any of the oral cancer symptoms mentioned in the section above, schedule an appointment with your dentist. 

  1. Age 

With increasing age, the risk of oral cancer increases. According to experts, if you are above 20, you should test for oral cancer every 3 years. However, if you are 40+ you should undergo oral cancer screenings once a year. 

As you grow older, it becomes difficult to treat oral cancer. That is why early detection is absolutely crucial to maximize your chance of recovery.  


Oral cancer is a formidable adversary that silently affects millions of lives worldwide. Good dental hygiene practices and a healthy lifestyle are essential for maintaining your oral health and reducing the risk of oral cancer. 

Worried you have oral cancer?

We at Great Boca Smiles have experienced dentists in Boca Raton who will help you with oral cancer screening. Our dentists will look at your symptoms and your medical history before suggesting a personalized recovery plan for you. No matter what oral issue you have – mouth sores, tooth decay, or signs of mouth cancer – we are here to provide the best care you need!