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The DIY mouth cancer check

02 November 2015

A simple head and neck cancer check which can be carried out by anyone at home, but ideally once a month.

Woman examining her own mouth
To carry out the mouth test all you need is a mirror, good light source and clean fingers, says Dr Dawn Harper. Photo posed by model.

During November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, the Mouth Cancer Foundation is encouraging people to Bite Back at Mouth Cancer with a simple monthly head and neck cancer check.  

GP and TV Doctor, Dr Dawn Harper is backing the initiative and has taken part in a video to clearly show how to carry out the examination. She says “It is recommended that the self-check is done once a month after teeth have been cleaned and by everyone over the age of 16 years.  It takes less than two minutes.  

"To carry out the mouth test all you need is a mirror, good light source and clean fingers. It is that simple. At each step you are inspecting and feeling for any lumps, red or white patches, changes in colour or texture, lingering ulcers or anything unusual”.

The mouth cancer self-examination


  • Look at the whole face.  Are there any swellings you haven’t noticed before?  
  • Inspect your skin.  Has anything changed recently?  Have moles become larger or started to itch or bleed?  
  • Turn your head from side to side.   This stretches the skin over the muscles making lumps easier to see.


  • Run the fingers under your jaw and feel along the large muscle either side of neck using the balls of your fingers.  
  • Are there any swellings?  Does everything feel the same on both sides?  


  • Using your index, middle fingers and thumb to feel the inside of your mouth. 
  • Pull your upper lip upwards and bottom lip downwards to look inside for any sores or changes in colour.   
  • Use your thumb and forefinger to feel around and inside your lips checking for any lumps, bumps or changes in texture.


Use your thumb and forefinger on the inside and outside of the gum working your way around the gum to feel for anything unusual.

Check your Cheeks 

  • Open your mouth and pull your cheeks away, one side at a time, with your finger to look inside.  Look for any red or white patches.  
  • Use your finger in the cheek to check for ulcers, lumps or tenderness.  Repeat on the other side.  
  • Your tongue can be helpful to locate sore areas, ulcers or rough patches. 


  • Gently pull out your tongue and look at one side first and then the other.  Look for any swelling, ulcer or change in colour.
  •  Examine the underside of your tongue by lifting the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

Floor of Mouth 

  • Lift your tongue up and look underneath then look at the floor of your mouth for any colour changes that are unusual. 
  •  Gently press your finger along the floor of your mouth and underside your tongue to feel for any lumps, swellings or ulcers.

Roof of Mouth 

  • Tilt back your head and open your mouth wide to check the roof of your mouth.  
  • Look to see if there are changes in colour or ulcers.  
  • Check for changes in texture with your finger.

About the self-examination

The Bite Back at Mouth Cancer self-examination has been devised by Mouth Cancer Foundation Ambassadors, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Mahesh Kumar and Dentist Philip Lewis.

Dentist Philip Lewis says ”Make a note of anything unusual.  If you have recently had a cold, sore throat, ulcer or swollen glands, bitten or scalded yourself for example, these should heal within three weeks.  If you have any concerns visit your dentist or doctor to see if you need specialist advice”.

Look out for Bite Back at Mouth Cancer leaflets and posters in Dentist and GP surgeries as well as in Pharmacies across the UK.  For more information and the full check visit


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.