Mouth cancer can develop in most parts of the mouth, including the lips, gums and occasionally the throat.

The most common symptoms of mouth cancer are:

  • sore mouth ulcers that don't heal within several weeks
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that don't go away
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that don't go away

Other symptoms may include: 

  • pain or difficulty when swallowing (dysphagia)
  • changes in your voice or speech problems 
  • unexplained weight loss
  • bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • a tooth, or teeth, that becomes loose for no obvious reason, or a tooth socket that doesn't heal 
  • difficulty moving your jaw
  • red or white patches on the lining of your mouth – these are common and are very rarely cancerous, but they can sometimes turn into cancer, so it's worth seeing a specialist if you have them  

When to seek medical advice

Many of the symptoms listed above can be caused by less serious conditions, such as minor infections.

However, it's strongly recommended that you visit your GP or dentist if any of the above symptoms have lasted longer than three weeks. It's particularly important to seek medical advice if you drink or smoke regularly.

Dental check-ups

Mouth cancer often doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms during its initial stages.

This is why it's important to have regular dental check-ups, particularly if you smoke, drink heavily or chew betel, a type of nut commonly consumed in Asia. Your dentist may be able to detect mouth cancer during an examination.

You should have a dental check-up at least once a year. More frequent check-ups may be recommended if you have a history of tooth decay or gum disease.

Page last reviewed: 08/10/2016

Next review due: 08/10/2019