Oral or mouth cancer refers to cancer that appears anywhere within the oral cavity, including the tongue, gums, lips, lining of the cheek, under the tongue, and the roof of the mouth. It is often grouped with other head and neck cancers and treated in the same way. There are no routine screenings for oral cancer, though malignant tumors may be found early by a doctor or dentist or during a self-exam. A lot of oral cancers do not have any signs or symptoms until they spread to other parts of the body or grow to a significant size.

A Sore That Doesn't Heal

Ulcers and other sores that do not heal are the most common sign of oral cancer. They are also often ignored, especially if a person is prone to ulcers or canker sores. That said, if an ulcer or sore does not heal without two weeks, it is worth getting it looked at by a doctor. Treatment of oral cancer is generally very effective as long as it is caught early.

Mouth Sore Ulcer John Sommer / Getty Images


Pain That Persists

Pain that does not go away is another common sign of oral cancer, though pain in or around the mouth can have other, less serious causes, as well. The pain may stem from cellular changes or indicate a deeper growth that is pressing on a nerve. Any sores or ulcers that are not healing can cause significant pain as well.

Persistent Mouth Pain Denisa / Getty Images


White or Red Patches

White or red patches appearing on the lining of the mouth, tongue, gums, or tonsils can be a symptom of oral cancer, though it is much more common for them to simply be due to minor irritation or an infection. If a person notices a white or red patch that does not resolve in a week or so, or that seems to be getting larger or more painful, they should see a dentist or doctor.

White Red Patches Dentist

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Difficulty Swallowing

Someone with oral cancer may have difficulty swallowing due to throat pain or feeling as though something is stuck in their esophagus. Changes in the cells lining the esophagus can lead to this sensation, or a cancerous growth could be preventing them from swallowing normally. As is the case with many possible symptoms of oral cancer, however, there are many ailments that can result in trouble swallowing.

Difficulty Swallowing Pain FaceStock / Getty Images


Lump or Mass in the Mouth or Neck

A lump or growth in the mouth or neck can be a sign of advanced oral cancer. Cancerous lumps do not go away on their own and may or may not be accompanied by pain. Once the mass is large enough to see and feel, it is absolutely essential to get it checked out by a doctor.

Neck Mass Swollen Tharakorn / Getty Images


Bad Breath

Bad breath can indicate an issue in the mouth or back of the throat, and may be caused by many issues, from halitosis to a rotting tooth to oral cancer. If a person notices a bad taste in his or her mouth and bad breath that persists after brushing or using mouthwash, it could indicate a significant issue in the mouth or deeper in the oral cavity.

Persistent Bed Breath LaylaBird / Getty Images



Numbness is another possible symptom of oral cancer. It can result from a cancerous growth pressing against a nerve and interrupting normal sensation. It may also result from cellar changes inherent as cancer develops. Anyone experiencing persistent numbness for no apparent reason should see a doctor for examination.

Mouth Numbness Growth Believe_In_Me / Getty Images


Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Neck

Lymph nodes swell as a result of the body trying to fight off illness and usually appear in an area close to the disease or illness. A cold or other infection can cause swollen lymph nodes in the neck, but oral cancer is a less-common but possible cause as well. If the lymph node remains swollen longer than a few weeks, is larger than 1/2 an inch, or feels hard and rubbery and does not move, it is a good idea to get it checked by a doctor.

Swollen Lymph Nodes DragonImages / Getty Images


Loose Teeth and Slow Healing

People with oral cancer may find their teeth loosening for no reason. Cellular changes can lead to this, or it may be caused by a growth in the jaw pushing against the teeth. Someone with oral cancer who has recently had dental work done may also find that it takes a long time for the mouth to heal after having a tooth pulled.

Missing Tooth Dentist undefined undefined / Getty Images


Ear Pain

Ear pain can result from oral cancer if the tumor or mass spreads and is putting pressure on the ear or the nerves running to the ear. There are many causes of ear pain. Anyone who experiences this symptom for more than a few days should see their doctor for a diagnosis.

Persistent Ear Pain RapidEye / Getty Images


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