Why check for oral cancer?
We’re told to regularly check other parts of our bodies for anything out of the ordinary (and we should!), but the part we get the most facetime with — we’re talking about your mouth — isn’t usually included. Oral cancer rates are increasing, and although there are risk factors like smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and UV exposure from the sun, it can occur in people who have none of these risk factors. Plus, the earlier you catch something like cancer, the better. So, being in-the-know and regularly checking your head and neck (and the tissues they encompass) should be part of everyone’s routine.
To check yourself, use the simple steps below to look for any lumps, sores, moles, lesions or growths. A good rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t go away after two weeks, it should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible. Oral cancer can show up in many different ways, and it is important to be aware of any red, white, or dark colored patches, as well as any lesions or patches that have a “matte” feeling to them. Additionally, lesions that could potentially be cancerous can be hard or soft and do not have to hurt to be suspicious. Always note any changes in taste, loss of feeling, or unexpected moving of teeth, as these could all be signs of oral cancer.
Reflect on your face:
Look in the mirror and make sure you don't see any new masses or bulges that appear only on one side of your face and neck and not the other.
Get skin deep:
Examine the skin of your face and neck for any changes in color or size of moles, lumps, or sores that have irregular borders, different colors, or appear ulcerative or “unhealed”.
Gently feel for lumps or bumps under the jaw in your neck, and move your way down your neck to your “Adam's Apple”. Swallow. Make sure it goes up and down, not side to side. It is important to note any hoarseness or clearing of your throat that does not go away after two weeks.
Pull your tongue to both sides examining the sides of the tongue (all the way to the back) for lesions or growths. Next, put your tongue to the roof of your mouth and examine the tissue beneath the tongue.
Cheek to cheek:
Examine the insides of your cheeks for growths or lumps. Place your index finger on the inside of your cheek and your thumb on the outside. Gently press and move around the cheek area to feel for any lumps.
Pull your lip out to check for any growths or blisters on the inside of your lips or on the gums.
Clear your throat:
Examine with a flashlight (your phone flashlight is probably easiest) the back of your throat and roof of your mouth for any unusual patches or sores.
Written in partnership with
Dr. Jeremy Krell, DMD
*Disclaimer: Self-screening for oral cancer does not replace a professional extraoral and intraoral exam performed by a dentist or primary doctor. You should be checked for any conditions involving the head and neck at your dentist appointments every 6 months. If you see or feel anything abnormal, contact your doctor.