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Head and Neck CancersOral CancerOral Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Let's Talk About Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Tingling tongue? Lump on your jaw? White spots in the mouth? It’s time to open wide and learn what's really going on.

    Our Pro PanelOral Cancer Signs and Symptoms

    We went to some of the nation’s top experts on head and neck cancers to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.

    Salvatore M. Caruana, M.D.Director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery

    New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center
    New York, NY
    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.

    Nadia Mohyuddin, M.D.Head and Neck Surgical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology

    Houston Methodist Hospital
    Houston, TX
    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.

    J. Kenneth Byrd, M.D.Chief of Head and Neck Surgery, Medical Director and Research Director

    Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University
    Augusta, GA

    Frequently Asked QuestionsOral Cancer Signs and Symptoms

    Are white spots in my mouth cancer?

    They can be, but aren’t always. Some white spots are what’s known as leukoplakia, precancerous changes that may become full-blown cancer if left untreated. However, white spots can also be due to an easily treated fungal infection in the mouth known as thrush. Either way, you want to get those white patches evaluated ASAP.

    What’s the prognosis for tongue cancer?

    That depends on its stage when diagnosed and the location of the tumor. If it’s difficult to remove all of it surgically, additional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy will be used. In general, the five-year survival rate for stage 1 tongue cancer is 76%, while the five-year survival rate for stage 4 is 27%.

    My mouth bleeds when I brush my teeth—should I be worried?

    It’s not unusual for gums to bleed when you brush your teeth, and it may be due to gingivitis, a treatable inflammation of the gums. It can also be a side effect of pregnancy. Still, it shouldn’t happen consistently. Growths in the mouth that are cancerous tend to bleed easily when scraped during brushing or while eating, so definitely get it checked out.

    Is lip cancer a form of skin cancer or oral cancer?

    Actually, it can be either. The upper lip technically begins with the skin directly under your nose, and the lower lip extends to the depression just above your chin. Your mucosal lips are the pink skin you put lipstick on. If you develop a malignancy here, it’s considered lip cancer and is a part of the head and neck cancer family. But if it’s in the skin above or below, it’s considered skin cancer.

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood

    Stephanie Wood is a award-winning freelance writer and former magazine editor specializing in health, nutrition, wellness, and parenting.