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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?
Return to Oral Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: WakeForestPatient, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: September 15

I noticed a sore on the side of my inside cheek. It was painful while chewing. I went to my general physician and was referred to an oral cancer specialist. It was diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma. Surgery involved removing that section of inner cheek, replacing it with skin from my wrist, removal and testing of lymph nodes along the neck. It was pretty significant surgery. I don't drink or smoke, but a number of doctors and dentists have told me that use of Listerine could have caused it because of the high alcohol content. If you notice any sores on your tongue or in your mouth, get to a doctor as soon as possible and demand a biopsy. Oral cancer is a very dangerous cancer because it can spread to other parts of your body and through your lymph system. Do not play around with this. Yes, it's scary, but, when caught early, it can be stopped. Go to the doctor!

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Comment from: momydearest, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: September 12

I went to the dentist for my 6 month checkup. He noticed red spots going down my throat and sent me to an ENT. I had cancer of the soft palate. I had no symptoms. I'm thankful to him it was caught early. It was surgically removed and today I am cured. No radiation or chemotherapy was needed.

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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