Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter
 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Symptoms of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

The two most common symptoms of mouth cancer are

  • A sore area (ulcer) in the mouth that will not heal – 80 out of every 100 people with mouth cancer (80%) have this symptom
  • Discomfort or pain in the mouth that will not go away

Other symptoms can include

  • A white or red patch in the mouth or throat that will not go away
  • A lump or thickening on the lip, or in the mouth or throat
  • Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • Loose teeth for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty moving the jaw
  • Speech problems
  • A lump in the neck
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath (halitosis)

Less serious conditions than cancer may cause many of these symptoms. But it is important that you report any of these symptoms to your doctor or dentist.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About mouth cancer section.

 

 

Ulcers that do not heal

A sore area (ulcer) that doesn't heal is one of the two most common symptoms of mouth cancer. 80 out of every 100 people with mouth cancer (80%) have a mouth ulcer that does not heal.

 

Persistent discomfort or pain in the mouth

Ongoing pain or discomfort in the mouth is the other most common symptom of mouth cancer.

 

White or red patches in the mouth or throat

An abnormal looking patch in the mouth could be a sign of cancer or precancerous changes.

Areas of abnormal cells may look red or white. White patches are called leukoplakia (pronounced loo-ko-play-kee-a), and the red patches are called erythroplakia (pronounced air-ith-row-play-kee-a). These patches are not cancer, but if left untreated they may lead to cancer. There is more information about leukoplakia and erythroplakia in this section.

A white or red patch in the mouth or throat does not necessarily mean cancer. A fungal infection called thrush can cause them. The white patches of thrush usually rub off, leaving a sore, red patch underneath. If you have anti fungal treatment and the patches go away, they are not related to cancer.

 

Difficulty in swallowing

Mouth cancer can cause pain or a burning sensation when chewing and swallowing food. Or you may feel that your food is sticking in your throat. Difficulty swallowing can also be caused by other conditions such as a harmless narrowing of the food pipe (oesophagus). If you have this symptom it is important to see your doctor and get some treatment.

 

Speech problems

Cancer in your mouth or throat can affect your voice. Your voice may sound different. It may be quieter, husky, or sound as if you have a cold all the time. Or you may slur some of your words or have trouble pronouncing some sounds.

 

A lump in the neck

You may have a lump in your neck caused by an enlarged lymph node. Swelling of one or more lymph nodes in the neck is a common symptom of mouth and oropharyngeal cancers.

A hot, red, painful lump usually means an infection, rather than a cancer. Lumps that come and go are not usually due to cancer either. Cancer usually forms a lump that slowly gets bigger.

 

Weight loss

Weight loss is a common symptom of many cancers. With mouth or oropharyngeal cancer you may eat less due to mouth pain or because it is difficult for you to swallow. Extreme weight loss may be a sign of advanced cancer. See your doctor if you have lost 10lbs or more in a short time and you are not dieting.

 

Bad breath (halitosis)

Most people have bad breath at some time in their life and it is not a sign of cancer. But if you have cancer bad breath may be worse and happen more often because of your illness. There is more information about bad breath in the section about coping physically with cancer.

 

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of mouth cancer might include one or more of the following

  • A lump or thickening on the lip
  • A lump in the mouth or throat
  • Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • Loose teeth for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty moving the jaw

Less serious conditions than cancer may cause many of these symptoms. But if you have any of them it is important to see your doctor or dentist. UK GPs have guidelines that advise them about when they should refer people to a mouth cancer specialist.

 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your dentist or GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

Brand 2013 cells snapshotOur research is beating cancer

While you're reading this we're making real progress in our fight to beat all cancers, including mouth cancer.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 83 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 19 March 2013