Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Oral cancer

If you use tobacco products or drink alcohol, you are at greater risk of getting oral cancer. You can reduce this risk by stopping smoking and using alcohol only in moderation.

Contact your local health department, the American Lung Association or the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at (800) 4-CANCER for information on how to stop smoking.

Perform a monthly self-exam of your gums, tongue and mouth area to look for the warning signs listed below. As part of your regular dental exam, your dentist should check for oral cancer. Your doctor also should check for oral cancer during your regular health exam.

Warning signs:

  • A sore in the mouth that bleeds easily and does not heal
  • A lump or thickening in the cheek
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
  • Soreness or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw (which, if you wear false teeth, causes them to fit poorly or hurt your gums)