How to Recognize the Early Signs of Oral Cancer

Every year, nearly 37,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer. It claims the lives of roughly 8,000 every year, with only 57% of people surviving another 5 years. Like most forms of cancer, it can affect people of all ages, but the odds of developing oral cancer increase with age, in particular, after the age of 35 years old. There are a number of different ways that can cause oral cancer to develop. It is important to be able to recognize the early signs of oral cancer in order to ensure you can get an oral cancer screening and the right treatment as soon as possible.

What Are the Early Signs of Oral Cancer?

Cancer can develop in any part of the mouth. It can be found in the lips, gums, hard or soft palate, and tongue. One of the more common signs of oral cancer is a sore in the mouth. When agitated, the sore tends to bleed easily and do not heal correctly. Pain or numbness is another sign that may signal oral cancer. However, some people do not catch mouth cancer in the earliest stages.

In the early stages of oral cancer, people may not notice any abnormalities. There is often no pain and very little obvious physical changes in the mouth. Thankfully, a dentist with the proper training can perform an examination and can see things that a patient may not. They may want to do an exam if they discover a sore that is discolored or even an ulcer that looks similar to a canker sore. It is crucial for individuals who notice a sore or discolored spot in their mouth that persists for 14 days or more to immediately seek a dental professional or emergency dental services. Some of the other early signs to be aware of include:

  • A lump or mass that can be felt in the mouth or neck
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing, or chewing
  • A hoarse voice that lasts for an extended period of time
  • Any numbness in the mouth

Fortunately having these signs does not automatically indicate oral cancer. The most reliable way to know is for a dental professional to perform a biopsy on the site. This procedure is painless and can give you results in a short amount of time. This way you can catch cancer before it does irreversible damage.

Who Is at Risk for Oral Cancer?

Unfortunately, anyone can be at risk for developing cancer. Some people, however, are more at risk than others. The early signs of oral cancer are likely to appear sooner in those at a higher risk.


When it comes to gender, oral cancer is twice as likely to develop in men than it is in women. This is due to the likelihood of men using tobacco and alcohol for longer periods of time.


People over the age of 35 have the highest risk of developing oral cancer. Roughly half of oral cancer diagnoses are in individuals over the age of 62. A weakened immune system also puts people in the higher risk category.

Tobacco and Alcohol

A staggering majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco products. The risk of developing oral cancer jumps significantly when tobacco is chewed or smoked habitually over a long period of time.

Most people who have mouth cancer also tend to drink more frequently. Oral cancer is much more common in regular drinkers than it is in non-drinkers.

Getting Treatment for the Oral Cancer

Being able to recognize the early signs of oral cancer can save your life or a loved one’s. There are ways to treat this disease if it is caught early enough. It can also be prevented. Learn how we can help you with preventive dentistry to protect your teeth and your health. Healthy living and avoiding excessive tobacco and alcohol use can reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. If you are in need of an examination for your mouth, contact Marcus Black DDS at 479.464.0900 to set up an appointment today.

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