Oral, Head & Neck Self-Exam Guide

Early detection and diagnosis is crucial to successful treatment of oral, head and neck cancers. When detected at stages I and II, the survival rate is over 80%; however, more than half of all cases are found later. At more advanced stages, survival rates are lower, treatments are more invasive, and the side effects of treatment are much more significant.

A head and neck self-exam is an opportunity for you to get to know your body and what’s normal for you. Repeating this exam monthly can help you identify any changes that should be examined by a doctor or dentist.

Follow the four steps below and look for abnormal, irregular or discolored areas. Compare one side to the other for symmetry. If you discover abnormal, irregular or discolored areas or lumps that are different on one side compared to the other, contact your health care provider or dentist.


1. Check the neck for lumps

2. Look at lips and cheeks

3. Bite gently; look at gums

4. Open mouth

Look at tongue (top, bottom, sides), back of the throat, the roof of the mouth, and under the tongue using a flashlight and mirror.


Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Facts

Oral, Head and Neck Cancers are Not Rare Diseases

Oral, Head and Neck Cancers are the 5th most common cancers in the World
*Over 50,000/year in the U.S. excluding thyroid
*Over 115,000/year in the U.S. including thyroid
*Based on American Cancer Society estimates.

Risk Factors

  • Tobacco: cigarettes, snuff, pipes, chewing tobacco, snus, cigars
  • Alcohol: excessive consumption
  • HPV: sexually transmitted infection with human papillomavirus

Signs and Symptoms

  • Lump or sore in mouth or throat
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Swallowing problems or pain
  • Bleeding: nose, mouth or throat

What Can I Do To Protect Myself?

  • Stop using tobacco
  • Use alcohol in moderation
  • If 26 years old or younger consult your physician about vaccines for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Perform monthly self-exams
  • Regularly visit your dentist or physician. Ask that they perform an oral, head & neck exam.

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Even with all of my daily reminders of what this disease has done to me, the permanent reminders, the scars that anyone can see. I remind myself, even on the bad dark days that I fought this horrible disease and I will always fight for the rest of my days.Angie Rush
Survivor of Stage IV Tongue Cancer

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