Southern Maxillofacial Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons Mornington Peninsula

Oral Cancer

The key to successful curable treatment of oral cancer is early detection and diagnosis. You can detect early signs of oral cancer.

How do oral cancers present?

Oral cancers can present in several ways. Some of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Persistent raised lump or swelling
  • White lesion or patch
  • Ulcer that fails to heal
  • Bleeding gum or soft tissue
  • Pain
  • Changes in sensation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Alteration in voice
  • Loss of weight

No single sign is diagnostic however if any of the above signs or symptoms persists for more than a fortnight then you should have it looked at by your GP or dentist. "If in doubt check it out"

What are the risk factors for oral cancer?

Some patients may be at a higher risk than others of developing oral cancer due to their lifestyle. The main risk factors for oral cancer include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Sun exposure / uv light
  • Irradiation
  • Betel nut chewing
  • Chronic irritation from sharp tooth edges

How do you diagnose Oral cancer?

When referred to us regarding potential for oral cancer our surgeons conduct a thorough physical clinical examination before requesting further investigations. Your surgeon usually determines the appropriate test. This usually includes a biopsy (to confirm the diagnosis), radiological imaging (Xrays, CAT scans, PET scan, MRI, Ultrasound) and blood tests.


Oral cancer can only be confirmed through a biopsy. A biopsy is a sampling of abnormal tissue that is sent to a pathology laboratory for further analysis by a pathologist to confirm the diagnosis of a lesion. The pathologist is usually someone who specialises in conditions of the mouth, jaws, head and neck. They usually determine whether an abnormal tissue is benign (not cancerous) or cancerous (malignant) in nature and send a report to your surgeon. Your surgeon will discuss the biopsy report findings with you together with treatment options before definitive management is carried out.

Radiological imaging

Special radiological imaging of the jaws, head and neck and chest are usually necessary as part of your work up for cancer. The aim of this special imaging is to determine the size and extent of the cancer. This includes computerised tomography (CAT scans) and chest xrays and where indicated Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or Ultrasound. Sometimes other more specific imaging may be required.

How is oral cancer treated?

Oral cancer can only be confirmed and diagnosed through a biopsy. Once this is made our surgeon correlates all your relevant investigative findings before determining what type of treatment is best for you.

This involves considering factors such as your age and general health, medical background, size and extent of the cancer, and your fitness to tolerate any procedures or therapies.

In general treatment may involve surgery only, surgery and radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy or combinations of these.