What Is the First Sign of Gum Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/15/2021

A doctor usually identifies the first signs of gum (gingival) cancer during a routine dental examination.
A doctor usually identifies the first signs of gum (gingival) cancer during a routine dental examination.

A doctor usually identifies the first signs of gum (gingival) cancer during a routine dental examination. Early signs of gum cancer involve:

  • White, red, or dark patches on the gum
  • Bleeding gums
  • Cracking gums
  • Unusually thick areas of the gum

Gingival cancer may be mistaken for gingivitis because some of the signs such as bleeding gums and swelling are similar. However, gingival cancer has distinct symptoms such as cracking gums, white or dark patches on the gum, and unusual thick areas.

Other symptoms of gum cancer include:

If these symptoms persist for more than four weeks, then you should consult a physician. Advanced stages of gum cancer cause numbness of the lower lip.

How is gum cancer diagnosed

There’s no fixed routine screening test to identify gum cancer. A dentist, doctor, or dental hygienist identifies most gum cancers during routine screening exams, or you can identify gum cancer by self-examination.

Gum cancer may develop more frequently in people who chew tobacco and drink alcohol. These individuals will need more frequent screening examination.

Some early cancers have symptoms that urge people to seek medical attention. However, most gum cancers don’t cause any symptoms until cancer has spread to other tissues.

Some dentists and physicians recommend to daily screen your mouth in the mirror for white patches, sores, or lumps, especially if you have used tobacco or if you routinely drink alcohol.

Some of the ways in which a dentist or doctor identifies any early gingival cancer are as follows:

  • Using toluidine blue to identify any abnormal areas that turn blue on application
  • Using laser light to detect abnormal tissues; abnormal tissues look different from normal tissues under laser light
  • Rinsing the mouth with a solution of acetic acid (vinegar) and using a special light to distinguish the changing area
  • Taking a biopsy of the abnormal cells and sending it to a lab to check for any cancer cells

Tests that may help a physician confirm gingival cancer include:


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How is gum cancer treated

Gum cancers are treatable when detected early. Treatment often involves surgery to remove lesions.

The goal of the treatment includes:

  • Curing the cancer
  • Preserving the appearance and function of the mouth
  • Preventing the recurrence of cancer

Treatment options may vary depending on where the cancer begins—in the upper or lower gum.

Upper gum cancer treatment includes maxillectomy (surgery to remove cancer in the roof of the mouth).

Lower gum cancer treatment includes:

  • Mandibulectomy (a procedure to remove cancerous lesions around the jawbone)
  • Neck dissection (surgery to remove the lymph nodes in the neck that contain or are likely to contain the cancer cells)

Advanced-stage cancer treatment includes:

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