Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is the uncontrolled growth of cells that invade and damage the tissues of the mouth.  Left untreated, oral cancer may spread to other areas such as the throat and sinuses as well as lymph glands, muscle or bone of the neck.  It may also mestastasize to other areas of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. It is estimated that approximately 43,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral caner in 2014.

Oral cancer can occur as a primary cancer in:

  • Tissues lining the mouth and gums (representing about 90% of mouth cancers)
  • Gingiva (gums)
  • Tongue
  • Palate (roof of the mouth)
  • Floor of the Mouth
  • Behind the wisdom teeth
  • Behind the ear
  • Salivary gland
  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Sinuses

Symptoms of oral cancer may include:

  • Sores, lesions, or ulcers in the mouth or tongue or on the face or neck and bleed easily and do not heal
  • Visible mass or lump (may not be painful)
  • Rough spots, crusts or eroded areas in the mouth
  • Bleeding from a mass or ulcer in the mouth
  • Persistent numbness or loss of sensation in the mouth
  • Pain or tenderness in or around the mouth, throat, face, or neck
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Altered taste in the mouth
  • Loose teeth, sore or inflamed gums
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Impaired tongue mobility or speech changes
  • Any unusual or unexplained and/or persistent symptoms

Regular visits to your dentist  can help catch oral cancer in the early stages.  Report any unusual changes or pain in your mouth, neck, or face.  Your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening exam (if not, please ask!) which consists of a visual exam as well as feeling for lumps or tissue changes inside your mouth, under your tongue, under your jaw, around the neck, behind the ears.  Your dentist may conduct a “brush biopsy” (a surface sampling of an oral lesion) if anything suspicious is found, or refer you to an oral surgeon for scalpel biopsy or removal of suspect tissues.