Mouth Cancer Detection
Tests and procedures used to diagnose mouth cancer include:
- Physical exam.Your doctor or dentist will examine your lips and mouth to look for abnormalities — areas of irritation, such as sores and white patches (leukoplakia).
- Removal of tissue for testing (biopsy).If a suspicious area is found, your doctor or dentist may remove a sample of cells for laboratory testing in a procedure called a biopsy. The doctor might use a cutting tool to cut away a sample of tissue or use a needle to remove a sample. In the laboratory, the cells are analyzed for cancer or precancerous changes that indicate a risk of future cancer.
Determining the extent of the cancer :
Once mouth cancer is diagnosed, your doctor works to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. Mouth cancer staging tests may include:
- Using a small camera to inspect your throat.During a procedure called endoscopy, your doctor may pass a small, flexible camera equipped with a light down your throat to look for signs that cancer has spread beyond your mouth.
- Imaging tests.A variety of imaging tests may help determine whether cancer has spread beyond your mouth. Imaging tests may include X-ray, CT, MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, among others. Not everyone needs each test. Your doctor will determine which tests are appropriate based on your condition.
Mouth cancer stages are indicated using Roman numerals I through IV. A lower stage, such as stage I, indicates a smaller cancer confined to one area. A higher stage, such as stage IV, indicates a larger cancer, or that cancer has spread to other areas of the head or neck or to other areas of the body. Your cancer's stage helps your doctor determine your treatment options.
Surgery for mouth cancer may include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor.Your surgeon may cut away the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue that surrounds it to ensure all of the cancer cells have been removed. Smaller cancers may be removed through minor surgery. Larger tumors may require more-extensive procedures. For instance, removing a larger tumor may involve removing a section of your jawbone or a portion of your tongue.
- Surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the neck.If cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes in your neck or if there's a high risk that this has happened based on the size or depth of your cancer, your surgeon may recommend a procedure to remove lymph nodes and related tissue in your neck (neck dissection). Neck dissection removes any cancer cells that may have spread to your lymph nodes. It's also useful for determining whether you will need additional treatment after surgery.
- Surgery to reconstruct the mouth.After an operation to remove your cancer, your surgeon may recommend reconstructive surgery to rebuild your mouth to help you regain the ability to talk and eat. Your surgeon may transplant grafts of skin, muscle or bone from other parts of your body to reconstruct your mouth. Dental implants also may be used to replace your natural teeth.
Surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection. Surgery for mouth cancer often affects your appearance, as well as your ability to speak, eat and swallow.
You may need a tube to help you eat, drink and take medicine. For short-term use, the tube may be inserted through your nose and into your stomach. Longer term, a tube may be inserted through your skin and into your stomach.
Treatment for mouth cancer depends on your cancer's location and stage, as well as your overall health and personal preferences. You may have just one type of treatment, or you may undergo a combination of cancer treatments. Treatment options include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Discuss your options with your doctor.