How to Check for Oral Cancer

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Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. These can include cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat). Oral cancer can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.

In the early stages, mouth cancer rarely causes any pain. Abnormal cell growths usually appear as flat patches. A canker sore looks like an ulcer, usually with a depression in the center. The middle of the canker sore may appear white, gray, or yellow, and the edges are red.

Oral Cancer Prevention

• Don't smoke or use any tobacco products and drink alcohol in moderation (and refrain from binge drinking)

• Eat a well balanced diet

• Limit your exposure to the sun. Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lip, especially the lower lip. When in the sun, use UV-A/B-blocking sun protective lotions on your skin, as well as your lips

Conduct a Self-Exam

You can take an active role in detecting oral cancer early, should it occur, by doing the following:

Face. Examine the symmetry of the face in a mirror, and check for irregularities and new imbalance between the two sides. 

Lips. Pull up upper and lower lips to check the texture and color.

Gums. Raise upper and lower lips to check color and conditions of the gums. 

Cheeks: Draw back the side of the mouth to check inside the cheeks. 

Tongue and floor of mouth. Move the tongue, check as far back as can be seen in the mirror, and feel the area. 

Palate. Examine the upper palate as far back as you can see. 

Neck. Feel for anything unusual on the sides of the neck. 

Trachea. Hold the thyroid cartilage (the Adam's apple). It should go up and down when you swallow. 


And, most importantly, See Your Dentist Regularly!