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What are the symptoms of oral tumors?

Tumors of the mouth and oral cavity can be divided into three main categories.

Benign growths that are not cancerous and do not pose any threat of spreading to other parts of the body, precancerous tumors that may be harmless now but could turn into cancer over time, and malignant growths that are cancerous and capable of invading nearby tissues.

If you notice any of the following signs of oral tumors or growths, book an appointment with your oral surgeon for further examination.

Commonly affected areas

Tumors can develop in any part of the oral cavity. When doing a self-screening at home, be sure to check your:

  • Lips
  • Gums
  • Tongue or under the tongue
  • Inner cheek lining
  • Roof of the mouth

What to look for

Oral tumors are often spotted as a distinct growth or lump inside your mouth. Less obvious signs to look for include:

  • Teeth that are loose for no apparent reason
  • A lip or mouth sore that isn’t healing
  • White or reddish patches on the soft tissues inside your mouth

Nonvisual symptoms

Not all signs of oral cancer can be seen with the naked eye. If you experience unexplained chronic mouth or ear pain, or find swallowing to be difficult or excessively painful, you should see your oral surgeon.

Typically, lesions or discomfort that haven’t healed after two weeks should be looked at by a doctor.

Causes and risk factors for oral cancer

Tumors form when the DNA inside your cells mutate to continue dividing and growing at a faster rate than a healthy cell would dictate. While the exact cause of the initial mutation is unclear, the following risk factors can increase the odds that oral tumors may develop:

  • Tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes or smokeless consumption like chewing tobacco
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • An immune system that has been weakened for any reason
  • Continued sun exposure to the lips without the application of sunblock
  • HPV or the human papillomavirus


Mouth cancers are typically treated similarly to cancers of the jaw, neck and throat. The most common method for treating mouth cancer is to remove the tumor surgically. This is why early detection is key, as a smaller growth is easier to remove. Other options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or special medications designed to target cancer cells.

Early diagnosis

Along with limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding tobacco and protecting your lips against UV rays, the best thing you can do to guard against oral tumors is to schedule a checkup with your dentist every six months. The earlier the warning signs appear, the easier the growths will be to treat.