A simple self-check can help detect oral cancer, a type of head and neck cancer, early. Specialists from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) share how this can be done easily at home.
"Survival rates for head and neck cancers improve when detected early,"
shares specialists from the
Department of Head and Neck Surgery,
Division of Surgery and Surgical Oncology,
Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and
National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS). Both SGH and NCCS are members of the
How to do a self-check for oral cancer
If you are wearing dentures, remove them before doing a mouth inspection
Use a pen-torchlight to shine a light into your mouth and look into a mirror
Examine your mouth for the following signs and symptoms:
Be sure to check the following areas of your mouth:
Roof of mouth
Tilt your head back to inspect your hard palate and soft palate
Look and feel inside your lips
Examine your tonsil area at the back of your mouth
Look and feel inside your cheeks
Stick out your tongue and look at the top and under surface
Floor of mouth
Inspect this region by lifting your tongue up
Upper and lower jaw
Inspect your upper and lower jaw
If you have concerns, consult a Head & Neck specialist
About head and neck cancers
There are at least 800 new cases of
head and neck cancer in Singapore every year. Worldwide, the incidence of head and neck cancer is on the rise, possibly due to increased risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated oropharyngeal cancer especially in young females. There is also a rising incidence of thyroid carcinoma (also known as thyroid cancer).
Who is at risk of head and neck cancers?
Males over the age of 40 are more likely to contract head and neck cancer
Those infected with cancer-causing subtypes of human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus
Those who engage in the following:
Alcohol and tobacco use (smoking or chewing) – these are the two most important modifiable risk factors for head and neck cancers
Chewing paan (betel nut leaf)
High risk sexual practices such as oral sex
Those who have had exposure to:
Common types of head and neck cancers
Squamous cell carcinoma
Most head and neck cancers such as
oral cancer (most common head and neck cancer),
laryngeal cancer (voice box cancer) and pharyngeal cancer (throat cancer) fall into this category.
Nasopharyngeal cancer (also known as nose cancer) is a type of head and neck cancer that affects the upper part of the throat at the back portion of the nose. It is linked to the Epstein-Barr virus. Singapore has one of the highest incidences of nasopharyngeal carcinomas in the world.
The incidence of
thyroid cancer has tripled in the last three decades, mostly attributed to detection of asymptomatic patients during health screening.
Salivary glands carcinoma
This type of cancer is relatively less common.
Skin cancer and sarcomas arising from the head and neck region
This type of cancer is more common in the Caucasian population and is linked to excessive sun exposure.
Symptoms of head and neck cancers
A raised growth, swelling or lump in the neck
Persistent sore throat or hoarseness
Dark spots, red or white rough patches in the mouth
Burning or numbness in the tongue, lip or mouth
Bleeding from the nose or mouth
Painful, sensitive, or loose teeth
A sore that does not heal
Difficulty in chewing, swallowing or talking
How are head and neck cancers detected and treated?
Head and neck cancers can be detected during self-conducted oral examination or during consultation with a doctor or dentist. Once they are suspected, biopsies and scans (eg. MRI or CT scan) can be used to diagnose the cancer.
Treatment will depend on the staging of the cancer, and can include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Check out other articles on head and neck cancers:
Multidisciplinary Care for Head and Neck Cancer
Link Between Head and Neck Cancer and Depression
Head and Neck Cancer: Symptoms and Risk Factors
Head and Neck Cancer: Types of Cancers and Treatment