Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have signs or symptoms that worry you.
If your doctor or dentist feels you may have mouth cancer, you may be referred to a dentist who specializes in diseases of the gums and related tissue in the mouth (periodontist) or to a doctor who specializes in diseases that affect the ears, nose and throat (otolaryngologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Consider taking a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For mouth cancer, some basic questions to ask include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- What are other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
- What is the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
- What will determine whether I should plan for a follow-up visit?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions that occur to you.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time later to cover points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous, or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Do you now or have you ever used tobacco?
- Do you drink alcohol?
- Have you ever received radiation therapy to your head or neck area?
What you can do in the meantime
Avoid doing things that worsen your signs and symptoms. If you have pain in your mouth, avoid spicy foods or hard foods that may cause further irritation. If you're having trouble eating because of pain, consider drinking nutritional supplement beverages. These can give you the nutrition you need until you can meet with your doctor or your dentist.
Oct. 21, 2016
- Flint PW, et al. Malignant neoplasms of the oral cavity. In: Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2015. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.
- Head and neck cancers. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.
- What you need to know about oral cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/wyntk-oral-cancer. Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.
- Lip and oral cavity cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/lip-mouth-treatment-pdq. Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.
- The oral cancer exam. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/OralCancer/TheOralCancerExam.htm. Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.
- Cancer-related fatigue. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Oct. 26, 2015.
- Erbitux (prescribing information). Branchburg, N.J.: Eli Lilly and Company; 2015. http://www.erbitux.com. Accessed Oct. 27, 2015.
- AskMayoExpert. Head and neck cancers. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
- Cook AJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 30, 2016.
- Van Abel, KM. (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 14, 2016.