It is important to detect oral cancer as early as possible, because treatment works best before the disease has spread. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and ACS encourage people to take an active role in the early detection of oral cancer by performing monthly self-examinations. The Oral Health Education Foundation recommends the following steps (below) when examining your mouth. Take special note of any red or white patches, lumps or thickening of skin, tissue, or gums, a sore that either does not heal properly (after a 1- to 2-week period), or a sore that tends to bleed easily or excessively. In addition, be sure to take note of a persistent sore throat, hoarseness, or difficulty maneuvering the jaw during chewing or swallowing. Be sure to consult your physician right away if any of these symptoms are present.
- Remove any dental products in the mouth.
- Visually look and touch your mouth, including the lips and gums.
- Check the roof of your mouth.
- Check the inside of the cheeks and the back gums.
- Check the tongue, including the sides and underneath.
- Check for enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and under the jaw.
Regular dental checkups that include an examination of the entire mouth are also important in the early detection of oral cancer or precancerous conditions. Your physician should also check your mouth as part of a routine physical exam.