Oral Cancer Exam

There are many forms of oral cancer. It can involve the tongue, lips, throat and other parts of the mouth. In all cases, the disease involves an abnormal growth process, which if left untreated, can result in death.  This is why we perform the oral cancer screening exam at each new patient exam and all subsequent recare exams.

Signs of Oral Cancer

There are many signs and symptoms of oral cancer. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Swelling, thickening or roughness on the tongue, cheek or on the floor of the mouth.
  • White patches along the side of the tongue or on the lip.
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth or throat.
  • Soreness in the back of the mouth or in the throat.
  • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or changes in the voice.
  • Persistent sores in the lips, tongue, palate or throat.
  • Unexplained red or white patches anywhere on the gums, tongue, throat, or lips.

Oral Cancer Causes

The number one cause of oral cancer is tobacco, both inhaled and smokeless. Patients who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or other inhaled products are at increased risk.

Smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff, are also very detrimental. Anyone who “puts a little bit between your cheek and gum” is making a big mistake when it comes to preserving their oral health.

Diagnosis of Oral Cancer

In order to be sure you do NOT have any form of oral cancer, you need to be examined by a dentist or physician or an annual basis. Self-examination is not enough. At a dental office, your dentist will examine your oral tissues, and can determine if you are healthy. This is especially important if you smoke.

If your dentist suspects that you may have an oral malignancy, a biopsy may be ordered. This is a definitive diagnostic procedure and should always be followed if there is a suspicious area.

Treatment for Oral Cancer

When the diagnosis of oral cancer is made, surgical excision is the treatment of choice. Fortunately, if this is performed early, survival is often assured. Unfortunately, early detection is sometimes not made, and the survival rate is low.

You can take steps to prevent oral cancer. Learn the risk factors and adopt a lifestyle that protects your oral health.

With regular dental check-ups At Forum Dental Group, we can look for changes that could indicate disease.


Checking for signs of oral cancer is part of our routine dental checkup. We examine your oral tissues easily by looking at your lips and inside your mouth. We check your gums carefully, the inside of your cheeks and your tongue (the sides and underneath), the roof and floor of your mouth and as far past the tonsils as possible.


■■ a red or white patch;

■■ a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal;

■■ a thick or hard spot or a lump;

■■ a roughened or crusted area.

Other signs of oral cancer that you can provide include numbness, pain or tenderness, or a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close down. Tell us about any problems you have while chewing, swal­lowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw.


Many of the risk factors for oral cancer are a result of behaviors that can be avoided. Oral cancer most often develops in people who smoke (cigarettes, pipes or cigars) and drink heavily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers heavy drinking to be an average of two drinks a day or more for men and an average of more than one drink a day for women. Smokeless tobacco products also increase one’s risk of developing oral lesions

Repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun can cause lip cancer. Infection with some forms of the human papillomavirus creates a risk factor as well. A diet low in fruits and vegetables also seems to increase the chance of developing oral cancer.

If you have had oral cancer, you may be more likely to develop it again.


We are not only interested in your teeth. We also check the general appearance and health of your oral tissues as part of the regular dental examination and look for any changes or abnormalities in your mouth, face and neck.



Figure. A suspicious lesion beneath the tongue.

Our job during the examination is to identify suspicious looking areas or growths that may need further evaluation. Oral cancer can be diagnosed only with a biopsy, when a sample of tissue in the area is removed and exam­ined under a microscope by an oral pathologist.


We strictly adhere to the American Dental Association recommendations in checking for signs of oral cancer. If anything unusual appears during your examination, we will reexamine you in one or two weeks; it is possible that the ques­tionable spot might heal during that time. If not, we may take a tissue sample (biopsy) and submit it to the oral pathologist or refer you to a specialist in this area, for a second opinion. As always, we will work as a team and discuss your options and what might be causing the abnormality. Together, we can determine the best next step for you.