How to screen for mouth cancer

Ciro Gilvetti and Andrew Osafo review the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer and explain how to perform a mouth cancer examination.

November was Mouth Cancer Action Month – a campaign that aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer to enable people to become ‘mouthaware’ and save lives through prevention and early detection.

Although Mouth Cancer Action Month has passed, as dental professionals, we should be continually raising awareness of mouth cancer and are in a prime position to educate the public about this devastating condition.

Mouth cancer is a serious and debilitating disease that can devastate – and prematurely end – lives. Therefore our actions can help save lives.

Consequently the aim of this article is to review the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer and discuss how to perform a mouth cancer examination.

Mouth cancer signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • Persistent pain in the mouth
  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within three weeks
  • Lumps and swellings in the mouth, head or neck
  • Difficulty in chewing or moving the tongue or jaw
  • Chronic hoarseness or sore throat that persists more than six weeks
  • Unexplained tooth mobility.

Visual changes of the oral mucosa (Mignogna et al, 2002) precedes almost all mouth cancers. These changes are also often accompanied by a change of the texture of the oral mucosa.

According to the State of Mouth Cancer UK Report 2019/2020, 64% of British adults do not know the major signs and symptoms of mouth cancer.

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