What Are Oral Lesions? (Precancerous and Cancerous)

Precancerous oral lesions are abnormal cell growths in or around the mouth. They may become cancer. Cancerous oral lesions are life-threatening cell changes in the mouth. These lesions need to be found early to give you a better chance for a cure.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of precancerous and cancerous oral lesions may include:

  • A sore in the mouth that doesn`t heal within 2 weeks

  • White or red lesions or ulcers on the tongue, gums, or lining of the mouth that don`t go away

  • Soreness or pain in the mouth that persists

  • A lump or thickening in the cheek area

  • Numbness of tongue or other areas of the mouth

Your evaluation

See your dental professional about any sore or pain in the mouth that doesn't go away within 2 weeks. He or she will ask questions about your health history and dental history. Your entire mouth, including your lips and teeth, will be checked. A biopsy or other tests may also be done.


This is the best way to find out if a lesion is precancerous or cancerous. During a biopsy, the area around the lesion will be numbed. A part of the lesion will then be removed and sent to a lab and checked under a microscope.

Other tests

Some other tests may be helpful in making the diagnosis. They include:

  • Staining. The area in your mouth around the lesion may be stained with a special dye. The dye binds to precancerous and cancerous cells, staining only these cells. After a few hours, the color from the dye will disappear.

  • Cytology. Your dental professional may scrape the surface of the lesion to obtain cells. The cells are then sent to a lab and checked for cancer


Your treatment will depend on the nature of the oral lesion. Your dental or medical professional can tell you about types of treatment. This may include surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Or a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy may be used to treat advanced cases of oral cancer.


The best way to catch problems early is to have regular oral checkups. To help reduce your risk for oral cancer, follow the tips below:

  • Get oral checkups. Visit your dentist at least 2 times a year.

  • Don’t use tobacco. Tobacco use increases the risk for oral cancer. It`s never too late to stop using tobacco.

  • Limit alcohol. If you drink a lot of alcohol, you may be at a higher risk for oral cancer.

  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may lower your risk for oral cancer.

  • Use good oral hygiene. Brush and floss your teeth each day. If you wear dentures, keep them clean.