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Symptoms - Mouth cancer

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 do not heal within several weeks
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth that do not go away
  • unexplained, persistent lumps in the lymph glands in the neck that do not go away

Other symptoms may include: 

  • pain or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • changes in your voice or problems with speech
  • unintentional weight loss
  • bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • 1 or more teeth that becomes loose for no obvious reason, or a tooth socket that does not heal after a tooth is removed (extraction)
  • difficulty moving your jaw
  • red or white patches on the lining of your mouth. These are common and are rarely a sign of cancer, but they can sometimes turn into cancer, so it's worth seeing a doctor if you have them

When to seek medical advice

Many of the common symptoms can be caused by less serious conditions, such as an infection.

However, it's strongly recommended that you see a GP or dentist if any of the symptoms have lasted longer than 3 weeks. It's particularly important to seek medical advice if you drink or smoke regularly.

Dental check-ups

Mouth cancer often does not cause any noticeable symptoms during its initial stage.

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

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

Page last reviewed: 14 October 2019
Next review due: 14 October 2022