Guide to Oral Cancer Self-Exam

The good news is, if oral cancer is caught early, the long-term survival rate increases. Early detection is key! Your dental professional will provide you with an oral cancer screening when you go in for your continuing care appointment, but you should also complete them on yourself at home.

Perform this 7-step oral cancer self-exam once a month. At each step you are looking for anything unusual, especially any lumps, red or white patches, changes in color/texture or lingering ulcers. Remove dentures or any removable appliances prior to self-exam.

You will need a mirror, a good light source, and clean fingers. A piece of gauze may be used to effectively examine the tongue. A small package of 2X2 gauze is available at most drug stores.

Step 1: Face Look at the entire face for swellings you have not noticed before and inspect your skin.

Step 2: Neck Run your fingers under your jaw and feel along the large muscle on either side of your neck. Are there any swellings? Does everything feel the same on both sides? Feel for anything firm, doesn’t move about easily when pushed on, enlarged, and it is often painless.

Step 3: Lips Pull your upper lip upwards and bottom lip downwards. Look inside for any sore or changes in color.

Step 4: Gums Use your thumb and forefinger to examine your gums.

Step 5: Cheeks Open your mouth and pull your cheek out, one side at a time, with your finger. Look for any red or white patches. Check for ulcers, lumps, or tenderness.

Step 6: Tongue Gently pull out your tongue and look at one side first and then the other. Look under your tongue by lifting the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Look for any swelling, ulcers, or change in color.

Step 7: Floor and Roof of Mouth Tilt back your head and open your mouth wide to inspect the roof of your mouth. Lift your tongue up and look underneath at the floor of your mouth. Gently press your finger along the floor of you mouth and under your tongue. Observe changes in color, lumps, swellings, or ulcers.

The Oral Cancer Foundation’s Check Your Mouth TM created a self-discovery initiative that looks for signs and symptoms of oral cancer between dental visits. At you can find steps with pictures on how to complete your own thorough self-exam.

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