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What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

Early detection

Your regular checkup is a good time for your dentist or doctor to check your entire mouth for signs of cancer. Regular checkups can detect the early stages of oral cancer or conditions that may lead to oral cancer. Ask your doctor or dentist about checking the tissues in your mouth as part of your routine exam.


Common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Patches inside your mouth or on your lips that are white, a mixture of red and white, or red

    • White patches (leukoplakia) are the most common. White patches sometimes become malignant.

    • Mixed red and white patches (erythroleukoplakia) are more likely than white patches to become malignant.

    • Red patches (erythroplakia) are brightly colored, smooth areas that often become malignant.

  • A sore on your lip or in your mouth that won't heal

  • Bleeding in your mouth

  • Loose teeth

  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing

  • Difficulty wearing dentures

  • A lump in your neck

  • An earache

Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor or dentist so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. An infection or another problem can cause the same symptoms.

Return to Oral Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: deanna, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: June 02

I am going through a lot of oral issues in the last few months, sore on my tongue, pain in my throat, hard to swallow, dry mouth and food getting stuck; whew big list... I have been to a few doctors and they just brushed me off. Finally I pushed and had CT scan and they found a couple lumps. Now I've got to go for tongue scan. I knew it. I say as I too was a caregiver of my dear mother who passed two years ago of the very same thing, I watched her go through oral cancer and knew always. Trust your own judgment and follow your heart.

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Comment from: aud123, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: August 17

Months ago I was noticing a white patch on my tongue. Being too busy I dismissed it as something my inhalers did from asthma. When my tongue started to feel irritated I went to an ENT Doctor (ear, nose and throat). I was pawned off to her assistant who treated me for thrush for a month. Finally, I insisted on seeing the actual doctor who upon first sight of my tongue suggested a biopsy from a good hospital. I called the hospital and couldn't get an appointment for a month. Finally, two days after a painful biopsy I was told I had squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) in my mouth. I'm looking at losing close to half my tongue to surgery because I had bad medical treatment. Let's face it. The earlier you catch cancer the better the outcome will be. Needless to say if you look in your mouth and your tongue looks questionable go to an oral surgeon and have a biopsy ASAP. Good Health to all.

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Comment from: R.Twicks, 25-34 Male (Patient) Published: May 16

I have noticed odd slightly rough (very fine bumps) like patches in my mouth that are in brownish grey blue in parts of my cheek. A similar texture is found on my lips. I found that when I eat certain food, apples for example, it causes my lips to swell and the roughness to become more pronounced. I used to smoke (not heavily) and I don't over drink. There is no pain and it does not seem to be leukoplakia. I am concerned if it could be oral cancer.

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