Oral Cancer - Diagnosis

How was your oral cancer diagnosed?

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Diagnosis of oral cancer

If you have symptoms that suggest oral cancer, the doctor or dentist checks your mouth and throat for red or white patches, lumps, swelling, or other problems. This exam includes looking carefully at the roof of the mouth, back of the throat, and insides of the cheeks and lips. The doctor or dentist also gently pulls out your tongue so it can be checked on the sides and underneath. The floor of your mouth and lymph nodes in your neck also are checked.

If an exam shows an abnormal area, a small sample of tissue may be removed. Removing tissue to look for cancer cells is called a biopsy. Usually, a biopsy is done with local anesthesia. Sometimes, it is done under general anesthesia. A pathologist then looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if the abnormal area is cancerous.

If you need a biopsy, you may want to ask the doctor or dentist some of the following questions:

  • Why do I need a biopsy?


  • How much tissue do you expect to remove?


  • How long will it take? Will I be awake? Will it hurt?


  • How soon will I know the results?


  • Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy?


  • How should I care for the biopsy site afterward? How long will it take to heal?


  • Will I be able to eat and drink normally after the biopsy?


  • If I do have cancer, who will talk with me about treatment? When?
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