Performing an examination

Mouth cancers can present in a variety of forms and recognising the abnormal is an essential skill for health care professionals who may be consulted (pharmacists, nurses, GPs and dentists). A multi-professional awareness campaign has been launched in Wales and a number of resources have been developed both on this site and elsewhere – links are provided in the resource section.

Head and Neck Examination: A guide for GPS

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and a guide for dentists:

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A structured examination should be performed 

Firstly simply inspect the patient – assessing for any facial asymmetry or asymmetry in the neck and under the jaw.

Then standing behind the patient palpate the neck for lymphadenopathy be sure to examine under the jaw.

Using a good light examine the mouth. You will need to use an instrument (tongue depressor) to ensure that all areas are visualised.

Finally, examine the floor of the mouth.

Gently hold the tongue (use a piece of white gauze to help you hold it), so you can look at the sides and of the tongue and underneath it.

Insert your finger into the patient’s mouth and palpate the tissues between that finger and the other hand under the jaw.

Mouth cancers can occur anywhere in the mouth but the sides of the tongue and floor of the mouth are “high risk” sites.