Mouth cancer, perhaps more so than many other forms of cancer, is highly dependent on early detection. Many cases are discovered at stage 4, where it is just too late. However, if it is caught early, the chances of surviving mouth cancer are nine out of ten – those odds are pretty good, and that’s why early detection is so important.
Mouth Cancer Action Month will again promote the message ‘If in doubt, get checked out’ and encourage everybody to pay more attention to what’s going on inside their mouth.
As mouth cancer can strike in a number of places, including the lips, tongue, gums and cheek, and given that early detection is so crucial for survival, it’s extremely important that we all know what to look out for. Three signs and symptoms NOT to ignore are:
- Ulcers which do not heal in three weeks.
- Red and white patches in the mouth.
- Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area.
If any of these are noticed, it is essential that you tell your dentist or doctor immediately.
The mouth cancer examination
As part of every check-up your dentist is required to carry out a visual examination and check for the early signs of mouth cancer. Please do talk about the examination with your dentist – they will be more than happy to talk through exactly what they are doing, where they are looking, and what they are searching for.
Here are the six basic areas your dentist will investigate during a normal check-up:
Head and neck
Your dentist will look at your face and neck. They will judge whether both sides look the same and search for any lumps, bumps or swellings that are only on one side of the face. Your dentist will also feel and press along the sides and front of your neck – they are looking for any tenderness or lumps to the touch.
Your dentist will pull down your lower lip and look inside for any sores or change in colour. Next, they will use their thumb and forefinger to feel the lip for lumps, bumps or changes in texture. This will then be repeated on the upper lip.
The dentists will use their finger to pull out your cheek so that they can see inside. They will look for red, white or dark patches. They will then place their index finger inside your cheek, with their thumb on the outside. They will then gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps, tenderness or ulcers, repeating this action on the other cheek.
Roof of the mouth
With your head tilted back and mouth open wide, your dentist will look to see if there are any lumps or if there is any change in colour. They will run their ﬁnger on the roof of your mouth to feel for any lumps.
Your dentist will examine your tongue, looking at the surface for any changes in colour or texture. They might ask you to stick out your tongue or move it from one side to another, again looking for any swelling, change in colour or ulcers. They will also take a look at the underside of the tongue by placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Floor of the mouth
The dentist will look at the floor of the mouth for changes in colour that are different than normal. They will gently press their finger along the floor of their mouth and underside of your tongue to feel for any lumps, swellings or ulcers.