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Symptoms of mouth cancer

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Mouth cancer or cancer of the oral cavity is a relatively uncommon cancer in the United Kingdom and a more common cancer in some parts of the world like Southeast Asia. With early detection this cancer is treatable and curable in some cases.

This type of cancer is more common among heavy smokers and those who consume too much alcohol. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and floor of the mouth.

Warning symptoms of mouth cancer

Some warning symptoms that should alert the patient include 1-8:

  • Red (erythorplakia), white (leukoplakia) or red and white patches (erythroleukoplakia) on the lining of the mouth, tongue and gums. There may be rough, crusted or numb area within the mouth as well.

  • One or more sores or ulcers in the mouth that does not heal for over three weeks

  • A swelling, or hard lump within the mouth that lasts for over three weeks

  • Pain on swallowing and eating. This is called dysphagia and is usually seen if the pharynx or the throat is involved

  • Pain or bleeding from within the mouth

  • A loose tooth or teeth that occurs without any trauma, injury or reason

  • Pain over the neck and jaws that refuses to relent

  • Hoarseness of voice and speech problems. This is seen in cancers affecting the pharynx

  • Unexplained weight loss and easy fatigability

  • Anemia or unexplained pallor

  • Changes of taste in the mouth that may often be bitter or sour or generally unpleasant

  • Ear pain that may be one sided or both sided. The pain often goes from the mouth or throat into the ear.

  • Swollen and painful or painless lumps over the neck. These are swollen lymph nodes.

  • Difficulty in opening the mouth or chewing. This is seen in cancers near the opening of the mouth.

Symptoms of tongue cancers

Tongue cancers usually grow significantly before showing symptoms of lack of movement of the tongue. They are clearly defined and spread easily.

They occur commonly over the sides of the tongue and are manifested as whitish patches called leukoplakia. These lesions are usually larger than 2 cm at presentation. The lesion may also appear grey to greyish-red with a rough and shaggy surface.

There may be pain at the site or in the ear.

Those that occur at the base of the tongue are usually silent until they have spread to the surrounding structures. Tongue cancers are commonly of the Squamous cell cancer type.

Tonsillar cancer symptoms

Tonsillar cancers are also commonly of the Squamous cell cancer type. These are commonly lymphomas.

These may present as a tumor over the neck. There are symptoms like sore throat, pain over the ear and feelings of something stuck in the throat. There may be bleeding.

Buccal mucosal cancer symptoms

Cancer of the mucosal linings of the insides of the cheeks, or buccal mucosal cancer, is usually painless initially. It becomes painful when it becomes ulcerated and further infected. There may be bleeding and difficulty in chewing. A growth is often seen.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 13, 2012

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