Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is classified as any abnormal growth and the spread of cells occurring in the mouth cavity, including the:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Gums
  • Lining inside the lips and cheeks
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Roof of the mouth
  • Tonsils
  • Salivary glands
  • The area behind the wisdom teeth or last molar.

Key Risk Factors and Prevention

Tobacco and alcohol use. Smoking or chewing tobacco when combined with heavy alcohol consumption increases your risk of getting oral cancer. 

  • Quitting tobacco and alcohol significantly lowers the risk even after years of use. There are options to help you quit tobacco. Nicotine replacement therapy, like the patch and gum, double your chances of successfully quitting. For help, visit your local health centre, email [email protected] or phone 1-866-368-7848.
  • Excessive sun exposure to the lips. Use a lip balm with UV protection to take care of your lips. 
  • Age – oral cancer is more common in people over 40.
  • Gender – more men than women develop oral cancer.
  • Diet – a diet that includes fruit and vegetables has a protective factor and is believed to reduce the risk for oral cancer. 
  • Oral sex – Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is spread by oral sexual contact and is an increasingly common cause of oral cancer.

Signs and Symptoms

If you have any of the following signs or symptoms see your dental professional or health care provider: 

  • a sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal in two weeks
  • a lump on the lip, in the mouth or in the throat
  • a white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
  • unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth
  • a persistent sore throat or a feeling that you constantly need to clear your throat
  • difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
  • swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • a change in your voice
  • pain in your ear that doesn’t go away.

Oral Cancer Self-Examination

There are seven easy steps to oral self-examination. Monthly self-examination increases your chance of discovering the early signs of oral disease.

1. Head and neck
Any lumps, bumps or swellings that are only on one side of your face should be looked at by your physician or dentist.

2. Face
Look at the skin on your face. Do you notice any colour changes, sores, moles or growths?

3. Neck
Press along the sides and front of the neck. Do you feel any tenderness or lumps?

4. Lips
Pull your lower lip down and look at the inside for any sores or colour changes. Next, use the thumb and index finger to feel the lip for lumps, bumps, or changes in texture.
Repeat this on your upper lip.

5. Cheek
Look for red, white, or coloured patches. Next, feel for lumps or tenderness, gently roll your cheek between your index finger and thumb.

6. Roof of the mouth
Use a mouth mirror or tilt your head back when looking to see if there are any lumps, sores, or coloured patches on the roof of your mouth.

7. Floor of the mouth and tongue
Stick out your tongue, look at the top surface. Using a piece of gauze or tissue, gently pull your tongue forward to view one side, then the other. Check the underside of your tongue and the floor of your mouth by placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth. Check for swelling or colour changes.