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4 Signs of Oral Cancer

Mouth (oral) cancer refers to a cancerous lesion (or tumor) that develops in any of the parts that make up the mouth, including the:

Oral cancer and other head/neck cancers are often treated similarly.

At Oral & Facial Surgery of Mississippi in Flowood, Dr. Michael Nichols and our staff see a lot of patients with varying stages of oral cancer, and many of them are more advanced than they should be because patients aren’t aware of what oral cancer looks and feels like. We’ve put together this guide on common signs and treatments so you’ll know when to seek medical attention — the earlier it’s caught, the easier it is to treat.

Causes of and risks for oral cancer

Mouth cancers most commonly begin in the squamous cells — flat, thin cells that line the smooth, pink tissue of your lips and the inside of your mouth. Most oral cancers are therefore considered squamous cell carcinomas.

Researchers don’t yet know what causes the changes in the squamous cells’ genetic code that lead to oral cancer, but they have identified factors that may increase your risk of developing it, including:

4 signs of oral cancer

The pathological process of a cancerous growth may be indicated by:

  1. Erythroplasia (red patches) or leukoplakia (white patches) in the mouth
  2. A tissue sore that bleeds easily and won’t heal
  3. A thickening or a lump on the mouth mucosa (you can feel with your tongue)
  4. A chronic sore throat, hoarseness, and/or difficulty chewing or swallowing

Interestingly, pain is not always a part of the pathology, and in fact, it’s not often associated with oral cancer. However, if you have persistent facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause, come see us; it may be an indication of a developing cancer.

Oral cancer diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose oral cancer include a physical exam to look for abnormalities in the cells’ color or texture, and/or removal of tissue for testing (biopsy).

Once Dr. Nichols has diagnosed oral cancer, he works to determine how far the cancer has developed. He may use a small camera called an endoscope to look down your throat for signs that the cancer has spread beyond the mouth, and he may order one or more imaging tests to pinpoint his diagnosis. The stage your cancer is in (how much it has developed) helps determine the best treatment options.

Oral cancer treatment

Treatment for mouth cancer depends on multiple factors, including the cancer's location and stage of development, as well as your health and your personal preferences. Some patients receive just one type of treatment, while others receive a combination. You should discuss all your options with Dr. Nichols during your consultation.

Options include:


Dr. Nichols cuts away the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue surrounding it to ensure all the cancerous cells have been removed. Large tumors may require extensive procedures, such as removing part of your jawbone or tongue that have been affected. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in your neck, the doctor may recommend removing the lymph nodes and related tissue in your neck.

If you have had extensive surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, you may need additional procedures to reconstruct the mouth so you can eat and talk normally. These can include skin, muscle, or bone grafts and dental implants to replace missing teeth, all of which Dr. Nichols can take care of.

Radiation therapy

Often administered after surgery, radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It can be used as a standalone therapy if your tumor is in an early stage, and it may also be combined with chemotherapy to increase its effectiveness. Though your oncologist will handle this aspect of treatment, because side effects include tooth decay and bone damage, Dr. Nichols will make sure your teeth are as healthy as possible before you start treatment or possibly extract those that are not.


This treatment uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Since the drugs may also affect healthy tissue, side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hair loss.

If you have been diagnosed with oral cancer, you have options. Contact Oral & Facial Surgery of Mississippi to set up a consultation with Dr. Nichols to see if a surgical option is your best course of action. Call the office at 601-282-9290, or book online with us today.

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