Is It Oral Cancer?

In 1998, when I had a sore on my tongue that wouldn’t heal, the world-wide web was in its infancy and not a place to easily ‘surf’ for information. Today, it’s the first place to go. On this website, I answer questions and offer suggestions to those feeling like they don’t know what to do next. Even though I have the opportunity to arm you with information, I’m not a medical professional. My advice is all from personal experience, and years of speaking in the dental world with experts in the field of head and neck cancer. If oral cancer is caught early, it’s very survivable. Seek attention from a dental professional or head and neck surgeon who can rule out cancer.

Here is my advice:

  • TAKE PHOTOS! Keep a visual record of what you see and/or feel.
  • Have a bright light source easily accessible in your bathroom so you can get a really good look in your mouth. If there are any changes, take a photograph and call your dentist.
  • Be sure you are getting a Six-Step Screening at your dental check-up. A thorough oral cancer screening should take about three minutes. If you are not getting one, you should find a new dental practice.
  • When making an appointment, ask the receptionist if the dentist and dental hygienist have had current education in recognizing the early signs of oral cancer. Ask if they use a dental screening device and how much they charge for that test. Know your options before you are put on the spot.
  • If you are not getting answers that satisfy you, seek attention from an oral medicine specialist at a dental school or an otolaryngologist at a medical center. If you are afraid of a biopsy, a screening device (VELscope, Identafi, Oral CDX Brush Test, OralID, Vizilite, …) may help determine if a biopsy is recommended.
  • Don’t watch and wait for more than two weeks. The mouth heals faster than any other part of the body. If something persists for more than 14 days, it may be abnormal and needs to be followed and treated by an expert.
  • Schedule an appointment with a dentist who has a speciality in oral medicine.

A Biopsy: What You Need to Know

  • A biopsy is NOT 100% reliable. If the problem persists, have the biopsy reread or redone. Be sure your pathology is read by an Oral Pathologist (not a General Pathologist). This is critical.
  • If your dental professionals do not schedule you to return for a follow-up, don’t assume it’s nothing. There is a progression from normal to cancerous. No one knows how a lesion will progress. A biopsy may be negative for cancer, but it’s positive for something.
  • Rule out cancer! If something is abnormal in your mouth or throat, don’t give up. Persist until you are satisfied with the course of action and follow-up treatment.
  • According to Tufts University Oral Pathologist Dr. Michael Kahn: Overall only about 50% of biopsied clinical leukoplakias show epithelial dysplasia. A maximum of 50% of severe dysplasias, 30% of moderate dysplasias and very few (<5%) mild dysplasia are thought to progress to cancer. Dr. Kahn recommends that ALL dysplasia be removed with clear margins.

Photos of Oral Cancer

  • Jim_A_OralCancer

  • SCC_Early1

  • SCC_Early2

  • SCC_Early3

  • SCC_Kahn


  • SCC_Tonsil

The only information I have about these photos is what you see written.