Symptoms of Oral Cancer

What is oral cancer?  

Oral cancer which is also known as mouth cancer is a broad term to suggest cancer inside the mouth. 

It may include the tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, lips, cheeks, tonsils, sinuses and back of the throat.

If it does not get diagnosed or treated early, it could be life-threatening.   

The most common symptoms of oral cancer are sores, white patches and bleeding.

It typically looks like any other mouth problem but the only difference between a normal mouth problem and oral cancer is that the cancerous issues do not go away.   

If a patient with oral cancer does not get treated at the right moment, cancer can spread to the whole mouth and other surrounding organs as well.  

There are several methods to treat oral cancer which include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy etc. 

Normally, surgery is the commonly used method to treat oral cancer as it involves the removal of the affected part of the mouth.   

But the treatment of oral cancer can be effective if the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.

Some of the common symptoms of oral cancer can help anyone to detect any potential cancer. Continue reading to know more about the symptoms of oral cancer.  


How common is oral cancer?  

Oral cancer is a serious issue which affects people all over the world.

In India, around 80,000 new cases of oral cancer and around 50,000 deaths due to oral cancer are reported annually.

Both men and women are affected by oral cancer, but men are more prone.   


What are the common side effects of oral cancer? 

There are few common symptoms of oral cancer, but these symptoms can be misunderstood by other medical oral issues. The symptoms of oral cancer are listed below:  


  • Sore on the lips and inside of the mouth – sore on the lips or inside of the mouth including the roof and the floor can cause some minor irritation. This can usually occur due to stress, nutritional changes, hormonal changes etc. But if this sore persists even after a week, then this could be a sign of mouth cancer.


  • White patches in the mouth – Having white patches inside the mouth is the most common symptom of oral cancer. It is also an early sign of mouth cancer that helps to diagnose oral cancer at an early stage.  


  • Rough spots – Odd rough patches may occur inside the mouth as a sign of mouth cancer. It is usually white or greyish.   


  • Mouth pain – Mouth pain usually occurs due to the growth of a tumour that causes pain in the mouth and jaw. It is a common sign of mouth cancer.  


  • Ear pain – Normally, ear pain occurs when cancer starts at the back of the throat. Ear pain is a secondary symptom of oral cancer.  


  • Difficulty in swallowing – Due to a tumour in the mouth, a patient often has trouble chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw as it is a symptom of oral cancer.  


  • Chronic bad breath – The main cause of bad breath in oral cancer is a high concentration of polyamines in the cancerous cells. It normally occurs when the cancer is in an advanced stage.   


  • Weight loss – Unintentional weight loss is a common sign of any type of cancer. Almost all types of cancer lead to weight loss although there is no change in diet. 


  • Numbness – Numbness or pain that occurs in the mouth or in the area of the neck that persists without any known cause, might be a potential mouth cancer symptom.  


  • Growth of lump – Growth of a lump in the oral cavity or the neck with enlarged lymph nodes is a symptom of oral cancer.  These symptoms of oral cancer may vary from patient to patient and according to the severity of mouth cancer.


Early self-diagnose 

If detected early, it decreases the chance of oral cancer being life-threatening. Anyone can detect some of the minor changes in the mouth that have the potential to become cancer. 

A person can do a self-examination of the mouth, throat and neck for any signs of mouth cancer. To self-examine follow the given points:  

  • Feel the areas of the mouth such as the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, roof and floor of the mouth.  

  • Use a bright light and mirror to examine the mouth.  

  • Open your mouth wide to look at the back of the mouth.  

  • Feel the neck region and are under your jaws to observe any enlarged lymph nodes.  

  • Place your tongue back and look for any changes in the floor of the mouth.  

If you notice any sore, white patches or any unwanted complications, consult your doctor.  


Diagnosis of oral cancer 

If the doctor doubts that the changes in the mouth could be cancer, they will ask the patient to go under a diagnostic test. 

These diagnostic tests help the doctor to identify the position of cancer or severity of cancer. Any diagnosis is a must to plan an accurate treatment plan. Some of the common types of diagnostic tests are:  


  • Physical examination – The doctor may look inside the mouth and might feel the mouth to check for potential signs of mouth cancer.  


  • Biopsy – The doctor may use a brush or needle to collect a sample of the tumour based on the area that has been affected. This sample will be sent to the laboratory to examine the tissue sample and check whether they are cancerous cells or not. This is the most reliable method to diagnose any type of cancer.  


  • Laryngoscopy or Pharyngoscopy – The doctor uses a small mirror to look around the back of the throat and the larynx. This procedure might require an endoscope (a thin tube with a light and lens) to look inside the throat which cannot be seen easily with a mirror.  


Depending on the area that has been affected by mouth cancer, diagnostic tests may vary.    


Stages of oral cancer 

Diagnostic tests give necessary information about the cancer. The doctor then stages the cancer according to the size of tumour and how much the cancer has spread. 

To identify the growth cancer, staging is important. The oral cancer has been staged in the following manner: 


  • Stage 0 – The cancer cells are present in the lining of the lips and mouth. These cells have the potential to be cancerous. 


  • Stage 1 – The cancer cells have started to grow but the size of the tumour is less than 2 centimetres. 


  • Stage 2 – The tumour has increased in size and is in the range of 2 to 4 centimetres. 


  • Stage 3 – The tumour has increased and spread to the nearby lymph nodes. 


  • Stage 4 – This is the advanced stage of oral cancer in which the cancer has spread to nearby tissues, lymph nodes and even distant organs such as lungs and bones. 


When to see a doctor?  

If you observe any changes in the mouth including white patches and sores that persist for more than a week, then immediately contact a doctor. 

Your doctor may ask you to take diagnostic tests for the same as mentioned above, to be certain of your condition.



If diagnosed early, the overall 5-year survival rate of a patient ranges around 85% to 90%. 

It implies that early diagnosis of mouth cancer can offer a 90 percent chance of survival for more than 5 years after diagnosis. 

Even if cancer has spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes, there is still a 65% chance of 5-year survival for that patient.   

Nowadays, as science has developed many techniques to treat cancer, the treatment of oral cancer is very much possible. 

Some of the ways to treat cancer are chemotherapy, radiation therapy or removal of cancer cells by surgery.  

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above that persist, then consult a doctor.  

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