There are many reasons for pain or sores in your oral cavity, and most of the time they are not due to cancer. However, you should never ignore any warning signs. When oral cancer is caught early, the outlook is very good for many people, but because it can be hard to detect, an oral cancer diagnosis is often delayed. Visual Exams for Oral or Mouth Cancer During your routine checkups, your dentist may hold your tongue with a piece of gauze and examine the inside of your mouth to look for signs of oral or mouth cancer. This includes spots that look like sores, bumps, and red or white patches. A physical exam of your mouth and throat will tell your doctor a lot, because oral cancers have certain distinguishing signs that doctors are trained to recognize. Almost all oral cancers develop in flat thin cells that line your mouth, called squamous cells, and the cancers that develop there are called squamous cell carcinomas. If you mention symptoms such as mouth pain or a lingering sore throat or jaw, your dentist may refer you to a doctor who can examine you more thoroughly and make a diagnosis. Oral Cancer Biopsy and Imaging Tests If an exam shows anything that the doctor suspects might be oral cancer, you may undergo a biopsy, in which doctors painlessly remove a small amount of tissue and send it to a lab for testing. The cells are examined under the microscope for cancer or precancerous changes that mean you have a higher risk of developing cancer in the future. If there’s a possibility you have cancer in your throat, your doctor may also recommend an endoscopy. After sedating you, a doctor will put a tube with a small camera down your throat to examine the affected area. Imaging tests, such as MRI, can help doctors assess whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the mouth. If you do receive an oral cancer diagnosis you have treatment options. Surgery is common, particularly for early stage oral cancer, but doctors may also recommend radiation, chemotherapy, or newer targeted therapies for certain kinds of mouth cancer. Reconstructive surgery is done where necessary to restore appearance and function. Discuss your treatment options with your doctor and make sure you understand the risks and benefits of each. Talk to Your Doctor About Oral Cancer Risk Factors Men are more likely to develop oral or mouth cancer than women, and it is usually found in people over 55. If you smoke or drink alcohol often, you are more prone to have a cancer in your oral cavity. You are also at higher risk for oral cancer if you carry the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to cancers of the base of the tongue and the throat. If you do have risk factors, see your dentist regularly and ask for a cancer screening during your routine visits. See a doctor for any lingering sores or irritations in your mouth, jaw or throat. The earlier oral cancer is found and treated, the better the prospect of a good outcome.