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What are the symptoms of mouth cancer?

30 June 2023

There are around 8,500 new cases of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer each year in the UK.1

Although these cancers start in the same type of cell, mouth cancer can occur in different parts of the mouth, including the lips, gums or soft sides of the mouth. Whereas oropharyngeal cancer starts in the oropharynx which is the part of the throat behind the mouth and includes tonsil cancer and cancer in the back part of the tongue.1

Symptoms of mouth cancer

The most common mouth cancer symptoms are an ulcer that won’t heal or prolonged pain and discomfort in the mouth. However, there are other symptoms that include:

  • red or white patches in your mouth or throat – these patches are not themselves cancer but if left untreated could lead to cancer,
  • difficulty swallowing,
  • speech problems,
  • a lump in your neck,
  • weight loss,
  • bad breath.2

It’s worth noting that there are other conditions that can cause these symptoms, for example red and white patches in the throat could be a sign of thrush which can be treated by anti-fungal medication. So, even if you have one, most or all of these symptoms it doesn’t mean you have mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.

But it is important to get these symptoms checked by a doctor or dentist, especially if an ulcer won’t heal or there’s a pain in the mouth that won’t disappear.

How is mouth and oropharyngeal cancer tested?

Usually after explaining your symptoms and medical history with a GP, a procedure called a nasendoscopy will be given. This will involve a thin flexible tube with a camera going inside your nose and the back of your throat, and a biopsy is usually taken if there are any abnormal areas.

Depending on the results, further tests would then be carried out. For example, if cancer is detected then a CT scan might be used to see if the cancer has spread from your mouth oropharynx to other parts of your body.

Treatment for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

Treatment would be on an individual basis and would be discussed with you by the medical care team. However, treatment can include:

  • surgery - if the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the mouth or oropharynx, a complete cure may be possible using surgery alone.3
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy)
  • targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy.

You can read more about the symptoms of mouth cancer and its treatment here: Cancer of the mouth - NHS Factsheet

We hope this information will be of use and please don’t hesitate to contact us should you require any further information.


  1. What is mouth and oropharyngeal cancer? – Cancer Research UK
  2. Symptoms of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer – Cancer Research UK
  3. Mouth cancer - NHS

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