Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2019

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

People with oral or oropharyngeal cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with oral or oropharyngeal cancer do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer. Often, a dentist is the first person to find oral or oropharyngeal cancer during a routine examination.

  • Sore in the mouth or on the lip that does not heal; this is the most common symptom

  • Red or white patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth

  • Lump on the lip, mouth, neck, or throat or a feeling of thickening in the cheek

  • Persistent sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat

  • Hoarseness or change in voice

  • Numbness of the mouth or tongue

  • Pain or bleeding in the mouth

  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaws or tongue

  • Ear and/or jaw pain

  • Chronic bad breath

  • Changes in speech

  • Loosening of teeth or toothache

  • Dentures that no longer fit

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite, especially when prolonged; this may happen during the later stages of the disease

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor and/or dentist as soon as possible. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.