Mouth cancer can affect any of the soft tissue within the oral cavity.

This includes the tongue, gums, lips, inside of the cheeks, roof and floor of the mouth.

Around nine in every ten (90%) mouth cancers are classed as squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells covering the inside of the mouth, nose, larynx and throat. Carcinoma means cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer starting in the squamous cells.

Less common types of mouth cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinomas (Cancers that develop inside the salivary glands).
  • Sarcomas (Grow from abnormalities in the bone, cartilage, muscle or other body tissue).
  • Oral malignant melanomas (where the cancer starts in melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigment).
  • Lymphomas – (Grow from cells normally found in lymph glands).

When checking for signs of mouth cancer you should follow the following routine:

Head and neck

Check if both sides look the same and search for any lumps, bumps or swellings that are only on one side of the face. Feel and press along the sides and front of your neck being alert to any tenderness or lumps to the touch.


Pull down your lower lip and look inside for any sores or changes in colour. Use your thumb and forefinger to feel the lip for any unusual lumps, bumps or changes in texture. Repeat this on the upper lip.


Use your finger to pull out your cheek so that they can see inside. Look for red, white or dark patches.  Then place your index finger inside your cheek, with your opposing thumb on the outside gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps, tenderness or ulcers, repeat this action on the other cheek.

Roof of the mouth

With your head tilted back and mouth open wide, your dentist will look to see if there are any lumps or if there is any change in colour. They will run their finger on the roof of your mouth to feel for any lumps.


Examine your tongue, looking at the surface for any changes in colour or texture. Stick out your tongue or move it from one side to another, again looking for any swelling, change in colour or ulcers. Finally, take a look at the underside of the tongue by placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

Floor of the mouth

Look at the floor of the mouth for changes in colour that are different than normal. Press your finger along the floor of your mouth and underside of your tongue to feel for any unusual lumps, swellings or ulcers.

If you find anything unusual in any of these areas, or are unsure of anything, visit your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.

Below is a brief video showing you what to expect during a mouth cancer check with your dentist.

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