Screening And Treatment Options For Oral Cancer

Although tobacco use increases the chances of developing oral cancer, even nonsmokers can be at risk. Fortunately, with early detection oral cancer is a highly treatable disease. The following will help you learn the warning signs and guide you on how to best monitor for oral cancer so you can seek treatment when necessary.


The early symptoms of oral cancer are relatively straight forward:

  • Sores that won't heal, either red or white in color, on the inside cheeks, lips, tongue, or gums.

  • Lumps or thick areas in the skin lining the interior of the mouth.

  • Sore throat, ear aches or jaw pain.

  • Bleeding in the mouth with no known cause.

  • Problems swallowing or chewing.

These symptoms mimic other health issues, including some cold symptoms. As a general rule, if you have a sore or lump, see a doctor immediately. If you have a sore throat or earache, wait a week or two to see if the symptoms clear. Of course, when in doubt, always see your doctor.

Screening Options

Another preventative action you should take is to have regular oral cancer screenings. Many dentists are now performing basic oral cancer screenings as part of your regular annual checkup and hygiene visit. Ask your dentist or hygienist if they offer this screening. This will then assure that you get at least one professional screening per year.

If your dentist doesn't offer oral cancer screening, then request one from your doctor during your annual checkup visit.

Keep in mind, if an issue is found you will need to undergo further testing and screening. Your dentist will likely refer you to your doctor. Your doctor may perform this additional testing, or they may refer you to an oncologist. Further testing can include tissue samples, x-rays, MRIs, and endoscopies to determine the extent and type of the cancer.

Treatment options

The type of treatment will depend on the location and extent of the cancer. When caught early, surgery may be the only requirement. The oncologist will remove the tumor and possibly the lymph nodes, if it is suspected that the cancer has spread into the lymphatic system. Radiation therapy may also be used to shrink and destroy cancerous tumors if removal isn't an option. It may also be recommended after surgery to destroy any missed cells. Chemotherapy is generally only used for fast-growing forms of oral cancer, since it can act quickly.

Talk to an oncology center like Southwest Oncology Centers for more information.