How is Oral Cancer Detected? Testing for Diagnosis and Extent of the Cancer

Oral cancer, also known as cancer of the mouth or mouth cancer, is a medical condition that involves abnormal growths in the orofacial cavity.

Like most serious diseases, oral cancer has a higher chance of survival when diagnosed early. However, detection is only half of the deal – treatment should be done upon diagnosis and in the right way.

Oral cancer screening experts in Fort Lauderdale give their take on the signs and symptoms as well as the different tests performed to confirm the presence of cancer in the oral cavity.

Warning Signs That Potentially Point to Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is diagnosed according to the growth and reproduction of abnormal cells in specific regions of the mouth. It may appear anywhere within the oral cavity: under the tongue, inside the cheeks, and even the lining of the gums.

Although oral cancer symptoms vary from one person to another, there are several signs that may indicate the need for an oral check-up, including:

  • difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • experiencing a sore area or lump on the lips, mouth, or throat
  • the presence of red or white patches in the mouth
  • difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • sudden weight loss
  • laceration or sore in the oral cavity that bleeds or doesn’t seem to be healing
  • feeling pain, tenderness, or lumps anywhere on the lips or in the mouth

Also, it is worth noting that these symptoms do not automatically equate to an oral cancer diagnosis. There may be cases that these are caused by other medical conditions, including an infection or allergic reaction. Either way, it is best to get yourself tested if you experience these signs for more than 14 days.

4 Causes and Risk Factors

Several things may lead to oral cancer. In the same way, the chances of a person being diagnosed with this type of cancer can increase depending on specific lifestyle, genetic, and environmental factors.

Although some believe that certain cosmetic and corrective oral devices may cause oral cancer, specialists ondental implants in Fort Lauderdale found insufficient evidence to support that claim.

Below is a list of the possible causes and risk factors linked to mouth cancer:

1. Age

The risk of oral cancer increases as people age. In fact, the average age when mouth cancer patients are diagnosed is 62 years old.

2. Alcohol or tobacco

Using tobacco can cause carcinogenic substances to enter the mouth and, inadvertently, increase the risk of oral cancer. The same goes for excessive alcohol drinking.

3. Gender

While it remains unclear why, gender appears to be a factor in the heightened risk of oral cancer, with males twice more likely to get diagnosed than women.

4. Human papillomavirus (HPV)

There has also been a strong link between human papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted infection – with oral cancer.

How to Diagnose Oral Cancer

Many cases of oral cancer were detected after routine dental check-ups. While this is the case, many still remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to the lack of symptoms during its early stages.

This is the very reason why paying attention to one’s oral cavity is vital. This is especially true for people who are at a higher risk of acquiring the disease. Aside from routine oral examination, mouth cancers can also be diagnosed via several tests, including:

Physical Exam

During the physical exam, a dentist or physician may observe the mouth region for potential abnormalities, such as areas of irritation (presence of white patches and sores) or unusual growths.


When a suspicious area is detected, the doctor or dentist then recommends the patient to undergo biopsy. This procedure entails the removal of tissue from the suspected infected area for testing.

For mouth cancer, two types of biopsy can be performed:

  • Incisional biopsy – As the name implies, this type of biopsy entails cutting a small sample piece from the suspected cancerous area. For cases when the region to be tested is easily accessible, this can be performed in the doctor’s clinic. But for instances when the tumor is located deeper in the mouth or throat, the biopsy may need to be done in a surgery room with proper anesthetics.
  • Exfoliative cytology – Instead of slicing the area, this method entails scraping it gently to take test samples. These are then placed on a glass slide for microscopic scrutiny.

Determining the Extent of Oral Cancer

Once the diagnosis has been finalized, the next step is to determine the extent of oral cancer. To do so, doctors are expected to perform one or more tests on the patient, such as:


While it is sometimes called mouth cancer, oral cancer can extend deeper within the neck region. This is why, in some cases, a procedure known as endoscopy is performed to determine how far cancer has spread.

An endoscopy entails the use of a tiny, flexible camerathat is inserted down the throat. With the help of its light attachment, the camera sends images in real-time to determine where cancer has reached the larynx or backside of the nose.

Imaging Tests

For less intrusive examination of oral cancer, there are several types of imaging tests that can be performed, including:

  • CT Scan – A computed tomography scan, more popularly known as “CT scan” can help determine the shape, size, and position of tumors inside the body. It can also showcase enlarged lymph nodes that may be due to the presence of cancer cells.
  • PET Scan – Positron emission tomography or PET scans are performed to ascertain if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. It is also useful in checking the rest of the body for cancer cells.
  • MRI Scan Magnetic imaging is less commonly done in oral cancer cases. However, it can still help doctors get a highly detailed view. This is particularly useful when your physician is trying to determine the extent that the cancer has spread, be it in other areas of the neck region or other parts of the body.

It is worth noting that not all oral cancer patients require each test. Your doctor should be able to help you decide what tests to perform according to your specific condition.

Early Detection Increases Survival

Cancer has always been a dreaded disease, no matter what type it may be. However, being diagnosed with this type of disease shouldn’t be a death sentence. Detecting oral cancer and beginning treatment right away increases the chances of survival. Because of this, it is crucial that you have your oral cavity checked regularly.