Diagnosis & staging
These are tests that may be used to diagnose this type of cancer.
- A biopsy, which is the removal of a small bit of tissue for examination in a laboratory, is the usual first step in diagnosing mouth cancers.
- A diagnostic imaging examination may be recommended depending on biopsy results. This could include:
- CT - computed tomography.
- MRI - magnetic resonance Imaging.
- PET - positron emission tomography.
For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see our Recommended Websites, Diagnostic Test section.
Types and Stages
- The most common type of mouth cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, occurring in the cells that line the mouth.
- Adenocarcinomas, sarcomas and melanomas can also occur.
Staging describes the extent of a cancer. The TNM classification system is used as the standard around the world. In general a lower number in each category means a better prognosis. The stage of the cancer is used to plan the treatment.
T describes the site and size of the main tumour (primary)
N describes involvement of lymph nodes
M relates to whether the cancer has spread (presence or absence of distant metastases)
The tumour is 2 cm or less in greatest dimension.
The tumour is more than 2 cm, but not more than 4 cm in diameter.
The tumour is more than 4 cm in greatest dimension.
Lip - The tumour has invaded adjacent structures.
Oral cavity - The tumour has invaded adjacent structures, eg. into bone, or the deep muscles of the tongue, or skin of the face.
The tumour has invaded the skull base, or encases the carotid artery.