Screening for Mouth & Throat Cancer

Screening for mouth and throat cancer and for abnormal changes that may become cancer is quick and easy, and can save your life. Screening by a dentist and self-screening should be performed regularly because mouth and throat cancer is often painless at an early stage when it is also most treatable.

Signs and symptoms of mouth and throat cancer include

  • A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip or throat;
  • A white or red spot that stands out from the normal color of your mouth;
  • A feeling that something is caught in your throat;
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving your jaw or tongue;
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth;
  • Swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable;
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss.

Patient receiving an oral examDentist Examinations

Everyone should be examined by a dentist for mouth and throat cancer yearly.

A mouth and throat cancer examination is painless and only takes a few minutes.

During the exam, a dentist can detect certain irregularities inside of your mouth (such as a white or red spot, or a bump or sore) and treat them, if necessary, before they become cancer.

In addition, if mouth and throat cancer is detected early (when it’s small and hasn’t spread), you have a better chance of continuing to live a full, normal life.

ASK your dentist for a mouth and throat cancer examination.


You should perform a monthly self-examination in addition to the usual mouth and throat cancer exam performed by the dentist. The self-examination is not a substitute for regular exams by a dentist because a dentist can find certain irregularities that you are unable to see or feel even during a self-examination. However, regularly performing self-examinations could help you catch cancer at an early stage.

Use a mirror to look inside your mouth, including the roof, cheeks, lips, gums, and under the tongue. Examine for any white or red spot that stands out from the normal color of your mouth. Even if the spot doesn’t hurt, consult a dentist if it doesn’t go away within a week or two.

The foundation’s Web site provides an in-depth pictorial description with accompanying text descriptions on not only how to perform an oral cancer self-exam but also on what to look for and when to contact your doctor or dentist.