Just like other parts of your body, your mouth can develop lesions from time to time. In most cases, a sore or unusual bump isn’t a cause for alarm. However, it is important to keep an eye on any type of oral sore and know how to distinguish it from something harmless versus something serious. Canker sores and mouth cancer are two very different types of oral issues, but they can resemble each other in many ways. Do you know what to look for?
Oral cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it is caught early, which makes it imperative that patients learn how to identify its symptoms. Mouth cancer can affect any area in the oral cavity, including the cheeks, lips, tongue and throat. It often appears as flat, white patches but can also develop as mixed red and white lesions as well. Cancerous spots may also feel rough to the surface and difficult to scrape off.
Unlike mouth cancer, canker sores are typically harmless. They often develop during times of stress, hormonal changes or even food sensitives. Canker sores aren’t as patchy as mouth cancer. It resembles an actual sore or ulcer that is round with a depressed center. Canker sores are usually yellow, grey or white with a red outer border.
Distinguishing the Difference
Pain – One of the most defining differences between canker sores and mouth cancer is pain. Canker sores can be very uncomfortable and painful. With canker sores, the pain should lessen over a period of 3 to 10 days. Oral cancer, on the other hand, may not produce any symptoms of discomfort.
Time – Another major warning sign of a cancerous lesion versus a harmless canker sore is healing time.
If you have a canker sore that hasn’t healed within 2-3 weeks, you should make an appointment to see a dentist.
Know Your Risk
It is also helpful to know your level of risk for oral cancer. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), heavy smokers and heavy drinkers are more likely to develop mouth cancer, as are people over the age of 44. HPV is also the leading cause of cancer that develops at the back of the mouth and throat (oropharyngeal cancer).
At the office of Dr. Wayne Suway, we conduct oral cancer screenings as part of our routine dental checkups. For most patients, this should be done on an annual basis. Don’t worry – oral cancer screenings are very quick and completely painless! If you have a sore or patch in your mouth that is concerning you, please let us take a look!