The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign of a pathological process. The most serious of these is oral cancer. The following can be signs of the beginning of a pathologic process or cancerous growth:
- Reddish patches (erythroplakia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
- A sore that fails to heal and/or bleeds easily
- A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate, and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face, and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and ironically is often not associated with oral cancers. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.
We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. Please contact us if you are concerned and we will be happy to help.
Lesions that are suspicious are generally biopsied, which means a small tissue sample is taken or in the case of certain smaller lesions the whole lesion is excised. The tissue sample is saved in a preservative solution and sent to a pathologist, who will examine it under a microscope to determine what the lesion represents. Most samples do not prove to be cancer, but since early detection and treatment of oral cancer is one the most valuable ways to improve one’s prognosis we generally recommend biopsy of non-healing, abnormal-looking, or unexplained lesions of the oral cavity. Most of these procedures can be performed under local anesthesia or IV sedation in an office setting.