What Does Oral Cancer Look Like?

Every minute counts when it comes to oral cancer. However, the early signs can be difficult to spot. 

Oral cancer can occur in all parts of the mouth and causes several warning signs depending on where it develops. Our West Omaha dentists explain what oral cancer looks like and how it’s treated here. 

What Is Oral Cancer? 

Oral cancer, also known as oral cavity cancer, affects the mouth, throat, and esophagus. While the exact cause isn’t clear, certain risk factors can make you more susceptible to oral cancer. For instance, types of mouth cancer are most prevalent in people over age 40. They also affect twice as many men as women. 

Overall, many cases of oral cancer are directly related to alcohol and tobacco use. 

What Does Oral Cancer Look Like?

  1. Discoloration Inside the Mouth

Tumors can appear anywhere in the mouth and are one of the most obvious signs of oral cancer. It’s common for these lumps, sores, or patches to look discolored, and they’re usually paler or darker than the rest of the mouth. 

People experience sores in their mouths for various reasons, and not all sores are indicative of oral cancer. You should, however, see your dentist if the sore persists for more than two weeks without showing signs of healing. 

  1. Red or White Patches in the Mouth

Oral cancer lesions might not appear as lumps or sores but as painful patches in the mouth. These lesions usually appear red, white, or a combination of both. 

Similar to discoloration, take these spots seriously if they don’t heal within a matter of weeks. 

  1. Lumps in the Mouth or Tongue

Mouth cancer might be hard to detect, but persistent lumps in the throat may tip you off. Also, sore throats that persist for more than two weeks without improvement may indicate oral cancer. 

Don’t dismiss these symptoms because they’re a sign of other medical issues, like the common cold.

  1. Difficulty Swallowing 

It can be hard to detect cancer in the larynx, but any pain or difficulty while swallowing or speaking could indicate abnormal growths in the area of the vocal cords. This can cause hoarseness or even a change in your voice. Furthermore, trouble moving your tongue may also indicate growths elsewhere in the mouth. 

  1. Ear Pain

Pain in the ears is a common indicator of oral cancer in the sinuses. While sinus congestion can also cause ear pain, it’s usually accompanied by temporary loss of hearing. In the case of oral cancer, ear pain would likely be your only symptom. 

Keep a close eye on any of these symptoms if they persist, worsen, or show no signs of healing. Make sure to see your dentist regularly and avoid certain risk factors, such as smoking and frequent alcohol consumption. 

How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed? 

Routine dental checkups often include a brief oral cancer screening. This typically involves an examination of the mouth and lips, as well as the face and neck. Your dentist will also check your mouth for abnormalities, like persistent sores or white patches. If they find anything, they’ll take cell samples using a scalpel or laser and have them tested at a lab. 

An oral surgeon or oncologist will likely work with your dentist to remove a malignant lesion. Surgery is the most common treatment for oral cancer, though radiation and chemotherapy may also be necessary. 

Contact Our West Omaha Dentists! 

If you’re at risk for oral cancer, knowing what it looks like is one of your best tools for early detection. 

At Eagle Run West Dental Group, we provide oral cancer screenings during our regular dental exams. Call 402-498-8804 or contact our office in West Omaha to schedule an appointment today! 

Author Bio: Drs. Sharlene and Robert Wilson offer a variety of general and cosmetic dentistry services in Omaha, NE. They both earned their doctorate from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry. With over 30 years of combined experience, both are committed to helping patients achieve beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting smiles. Call 402-498-8804 to schedule an appointment. 

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