Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage
during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable. This makes
the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important. Oral
cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and
melanoma. The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell
carcinoma. This oral cancer type usually originates in the lip or tongue but can
occur anywhere in the mouth.
There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:
Reasons for oral cancer examinations
- Salivary Glands
- Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with
modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol
When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally
very effective. Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or
surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as
possible. During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be
scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of
The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:
Red patches and sores
- Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and
sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing
sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.
- This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can
appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become
cancerous if treatment is not sought.
- Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the
throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.