6 Common Oral Cancer Symptoms

There are six common oral cancer symptoms

woman with earache
Frequent or persistent earaches can be a sign of oral cancer.. Eric Audras/ONOKY/Getty Images

There are six common oral cancer symptoms, ranging from sores in the mouth to earaches. But first, just what is cancer?

What is Cancer?

Cancer can start any place in the body. It starts when cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. This makes it hard for the body to work the way it should and causes problems in the part of the body where the cancer started.

Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.

For instance, cancer cells in the lung can travel to the bones and grow there. When cancer cells spread, it’s called metastasis. When lung cancer spreads to the bones, it’s still called lung cancer. To doctors, the cancer cells in the bones look just like the ones from the lung. It’s not called bone cancer unless it started in the bones.

Some cancers grow and spread fast. Others grow more slowly. They also respond to treatment in different ways. Some types of cancer are best treated with surgery; others respond better to drugs called chemotherapy. Often two or more treatments are used to get the best results.

When someone has cancer, the doctor will want to find out what kind of cancer it is. People with cancer need treatment that works for their type of cancer.

Oral Cancer Symptoms:

Oral cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that affects the mouth. It can form in the lining of the cheeks, gums, roof of the mouth, tongue, and lips.

Oral cancer symptoms can often be the signs of other less serious illnesses, so it is important to consult your doctor or dentist if you are experiencing any of these changes in your oral health.

During your annual dental check-up, your dentist will also screen for oral cancer. Those who use tobacco products may receive a more in-depth screening based on their risk.

1. White and Red Patches in the Mouth or Lips:

A white or red patch (or combination of the two) inside the mouth or the lips are the most commonly experienced symptom of oral cancer. In the early stages, these white and red patches are warnings of abnormal cells, a pre-malignant condition. If left untreated, they can become cancerous.

2. A Sore or Blister in Your Mouth:

A sore or blister in the mouth or on the lip that won't heal is a symptom of oral cancer. Sores that last longer than two weeks warrant a trip to the doctor.

3. Difficulty Swallowing:

This symptom can include difficulty chewing, moving the jaw, speaking or moving the tongue. This is a nonspecific symptom of oral cancer and can be caused by many other conditions.

4. Earaches:

Frequent or persistent earaches need to be evaluated by a physician. An earache is usually indicative of an infection. However, in some cases, it can be related to oral cancer.

5. Change in the Way Teeth Fit Together:

This can include dentures not fitting correctly.

Oral cancer can also cause loose teeth.

6. Bleeding from the Mouth:

Report any oral bleeding to your dentist and doctor. Bleeding from the mouth can be caused by many things, but it is still a symptom of oral cancer and needs to be checked out.


American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/what-is-cancer

"What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer". Cancer Topics. National Cancer Society: What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer. 09 September 2004. Accessed 14 July 2008.

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