Oral Cancer: Early detection is best

Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Angie Caton, MSN, RN, OCN, CHPN
Assistant Nurse Manager | Oncology Services

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in 2022, more than 54,000 people will be diagnosed with cancers found in the oral cavity (mouth or in the area behind the throat just beyond the mouth). Though oral cancers are more common in men than women, they are equally common in people all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Routine Screening

It’s important to continue routine cancer screenings, despite any previous lapse in care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you temporarily halted your regular checkups with your healthcare provider or dentist, now is the time to schedule your next appointment. In the meantime, you can perform an oral cancer screening on yourself – from the comfort of your own home. 

At-Home Screening

While the ACS does not have any specific recommendations for how often to perform oral cancer screenings, most dentists and dental hygienists do perform oral cancer screenings at each visit and recommend you perform self-screenings in between.

Self-screenings are quick, easy and painless. To perform an oral cancer screening, you’ll need just three things: your eyes, a wall mirror and a flashlight.

Screening Steps:

  1. Using your hands, feel for any lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) on both sides of your neck, including under the lower jaw.
  2. Wash your hands.
  3. Remove dentures/partials if you have them.
  4. Look and feel inside your lips and the front of your gums.
  5. Tilt your head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth. Use a flashlight if needed.
  6. Pull each cheek out, one at a time, with your fingers to look at it. Then, look at the gums in the back of your mouth while you have the cheek pulled out. Use your other hand to hold the flashlight, if needed.
  7. Next, pull out your tongue with your fingers. Look at the top and bottom of your tongue and then each side of the tongue.

What Am I Looking For?

As you perform the oral cancer screening, you will be looking for the following abnormalities:

  • White, red or white/red patches anywhere in your mouth or gums
  • Lumps or thickening of the cheek, tongue or roof of mouth
  • Any area in the mouth that bleeds easy
  • Sores that are not healing on the lips or other areas inside the mouth and gums

If you find any of the above, it’s important to report them to your dentist or healthcare provider immediately. There are many conditions of the oral cavity, however, that are not cancerous but should be followed and treated by your dentist or healthcare provider. Early detection of oral cancers and other oral conditions permits more options for treatment and potentially easier treatments.

More Information

Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) offers a robust Cancer Services program, treating more than 3,000 new cancer patients each year. In 2019, we treated more than 60 cases of oral cancers. Learn more about NGMC’s Cancer Services at nghs.com/cancer