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Lip and Oral (Mouth) Cancer Diagnosis

Specialists at Penn Head and Neck Cancer perform the latest diagnostic techniques to accurately diagnose all types of mouth cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, minor salivary gland cancer, mucosal melanoma, lymphoma and sarcoma of the mouth.

Mouth cancer can develop in areas of the lip, gums, jaw, inner cheek, tongue and hard palate—and depending on the type, will require different treatment plans. An accurate diagnosis is key to receiving the best possible care and individualized treatment.


Mouth Cancer Diagnostic Tests and Tools

The following tests may be performed to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma, minor salivary gland cancer, mucosal melanoma, lymphoma and sarcoma of the mouth.

Medical Examination

The first step in diagnosing mouth cancer will be a complete physical examination and medical history evaluation from a head and neck specialist. Your physician will inspect the areas of the mouth and surrounding lymph nodes of the neck for any signs and symptoms you may be having. After the initial evaluation is performed, your doctor may run additional diagnostic tests.


If your doctor suspects mouth cancer, a biopsy will likely be performed. This can occur in the outpatient office setting or under general anesthesia in the operating room depending on the location of the cancer. Once a suspicious mass is found, a sample of the area may be removed and viewed under a microscope. Types of biopsies include:

  • Surgical biopsy: In a surgical biopsy, the surgeon exposes the tumor through an incision and removes a piece of the tumor.
  • Core needle biopsy: A physician uses a large, hollow needle to remove a small piece of the tumor.
  • Excisional biopsy: Removal of the entire tumor or suspicious mass.

Diagnostic Imaging

Imaging tests may be performed in cases of advanced tumors or if there is a concern that the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. These tests include:

  • CT Scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan

Blood Tests

A complete blood count (CBC) that will examine the number of red blood cells and platelets, and the number and type of white blood cells. The CBC will also examine other portions of the blood