In most cases, ulcers and lesions in the mouth are not serious health risks and will heal on their own. Oral cancer, on the other hand, can be a cause for concern. So, when someone finds an unusual sore, spots, or mottled patches in their mouth, the best course of action is to seek advice from a medical professional.
This article will explore the key differences between mouth cancer and canker sores, including their appearances, healing process, and other related symptoms. Patients concerned about unusual developments in their mouths can use this information as a guide to determine the next steps.
What Are Canker Sores?
Canker sores are small, round ulcers that appear in the mouth, typically on the inside of the cheeks, lips, tongue, the base of the gums, or the back of the throat. Canker sores are not contagious and can be caused by one of several triggers, including stress, minor injuries to the inside of the mouth (biting the inside of the cheek, for example), food sensitivities, and acidic food, some kinds of toothpaste, and hormonal changes.
Generally, a canker sore is little more than a minor inconvenience that heals without intervention in seven to 14 days. Sometimes, patients use rinses, ointments, or prescription gels to speed the healing process or reduce discomfort.
What Do Canker Sores Look Like?
Before theoral cancer vs. canker sore debate can be settled, it is essential to understand the defining physical attributes of each condition. Canker sores are typically circular and look like an ulcer. The center of the sore is generally depressed or sunken, creating a shallow crater-like appearance. The center may be pink, white, grey, or yellow. The outer rim is often red or dark pink.
How to Identify a Canker Sore
The primary defining feature of a canker sore is unrelated to how it looks. Instead, canker sores are easily identified by how they feel. Canker sores can be extremely painful and make eating and drinking difficult. Some sores cause no pain, but most will result in moderate to high levels of discomfort.
Another crucial feature of canker sores is their ability to heal. Most people who experience canker sores enjoy a full recovery in a week or two. However, sometimes, healing can take up to three weeks.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that grows in and around the mouth. There are two main categories of oral cancer:
- Those that grow in the oral cavity affecting the lips, cheek lining, teeth, front of the tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, and gums.
- Those that grow in the oropharynx, affect the middle area of the throat, including the base of the tongue and the tonsils.
Some risk factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing oral cancer. Smokers and heavy drinkers over the age of 50 are in the highest risk bracket. Those who are human papillomavirus (HPV) positive may also be more susceptible to cancers in the throat and back of the mouth. Men are two times more likely to develop oral cancer than women.
Oral cancer is highly treatable, but early detection is vital for positive outcomes.
What Does Mouth Cancer Look Like?
Mouth cancer usually looks white, patchy, and mottled. Sometimes, bright red patches appear, too. These patches can feel rough to the touch and may bleed. Some areas might feel like the tissue has hardened and thickened.
How to Identify Oral Cancer
Oral cancer does not heal itself. Persistent mouth sores that are not painful require professional diagnosis. In addition, oral cancer has other warning signs, including:
- Numbness in or around the mouth
- A sore throat that does not go away on its own
- Pain, swelling, or stiffness in the jaw
- A hoarse voice
- The feeling of something stuck in the throat
- Teeth that are loose for no reason
- Lumps in the mouth
Oral Cancer vs. Canker Sores: What Are the Key Differences?
In its early stage, oral cancer may look and feel similar to a canker sore. Further investigation will reveal whether the mouth sore is cause for serious concern or not. When in doubt, always speak to a trusted medical professional.
Here are the key differences between oral cancer and canker sores:
- Appearance: Canker sores are crater-like in shape and appearance. The center is typically sunken and can be white, yellowish, or pink. The outer rim is often bright red. Oral cancers, on the other hand, are patchy, mottled, and white.
- Pain: Canker sores can be very painful. Usually, the sores associated with oral cancer do not cause any pain.
- Healing: Even when left alone, canker sores will typically heal within two weeks. Sometimes, full recovery can take six weeks. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can speed up the healing process. Oral cancer and the associated mouth sores will not heal on their own.
- Triggers: Canker sores can be brought on by triggers like stress, hormonal changes, and acidic foods. People who experience canker sores may become familiar with their individual triggers. Oral cancer does not have a short-term trigger. However, long-time smokers, excessive drinkers, men, and those over 50 are at an increased risk of developing the disease.
What to Do Next
It’s only natural to feel anxious when something in your body changes. Finding mouth sores that look unusual or unfamiliar can be a scary experience. However, help is available. The first step is to get answers. Visit your trusted healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.
If cancer is the cause of your mouth sores, know that it is highly treatable. At Brio-Medical, we approach healing holistically, treating each individual patient’s mind, body, and spirit. By strengthening the immune system and working through personalized medical protocols, we provide your body with the tools and resources it needs to heal itself.
If you are ready to discuss the next steps, please schedule a free consultation with one of our dedicated patient care coordinators, and let’s take the first step toward optimal health and well-being.