If a patient has symptoms that could indicate oral cavity cancer, the doctor will test for fever and high blood pressure and check general signs of health. The patient will likely have one or more of the following tests:
- An exam to check the lips and oral cavity for abnormal areas. The doctor or dentist will feel the entire inside of the mouth with a gloved finger and examine the oral cavity with a small long-handled mirror and lights. This will include checking the insides of the cheeks and lips; the gums; the roof and floor of the mouth; and the top, bottom, and sides of the tongue. The neck will be felt for swollen lymph nodes. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and medical and dental treatments will also be taken.
- A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope
is inserted through an incision (cut) in the skin or the mouth.
X-Rays of the Head, Neck, and Chest
- An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
- The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist. If leukoplakia is found, cells taken from the patches are also checked under the microscope for signs of cancer.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
- A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMRI).
CT Scan (CAT scan)
- A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography
, computerized tomography
, or computerized axial tomography
- A procedure to collect cells from the lip or oral cavity. A piece of cotton, a brush, or a small wooden stick is used to gently scrape cells from the lips, tongue, mouth, or throat. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal.
- A series of x-rays of the esophagus and stomach. The patient drinks a liquid that contains barium
(a silver-white metallic compound). The liquid coats the esophagus and x-rays are taken. This procedure is also called an Upper GI Series
PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography Scan)
- A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radionuclide glucose
(sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells.
Once the results from the test or procedure are returned you will be able to make thoughtful decisions. Please see Newly Diagnosed
for information on being patient active, treatment decisions, partnering with your healthcare team and finding support.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult. Please see Caregivers
and/or Online Support
for more information on how the Cancer Support Community can offer support.