Canker Sore or Cancer

Is It a Canker Sore or Cancer?

Canker sore or cancer: There is a big difference between having a canker sore and having a cancer diagnosis. Even though canker sores are not cancerous, getting one is sure to have most people worrying that there is something seriously wrong – even that it could be oral cancer.

If you're not sure whether you have a canker sore or cancer, read on to learn the basics about canker sores, and how they differ from mouth cancer. This will help you to keep calm when one of these pesky, albeit relatively benign, issues comes up.

What Is a Canker Sore?

When you get an open sore in your mouth that causes you some type of pain, that is considered a canker sore. They are yellow or white and have bright red surrounding them. It is different from a cold sore.

Canker sores are a type of mouth ulcer that is quite common. The cause of such a sore may be unknown, or it can occur as a result of a viral infection. Another possible issue that can lead to a canker sore is that something is wrong with the person’s immune system.

Causes of Canker Sores

Other causes of canker sores include the following:

  • Rough cleaning of one’s teeth
  • A mouth injury when getting dental work done
  • Emotional stress
  • Biting of one’s cheek or tongue
  • Changes in the individual’s hormones
  • A lack of specific minerals and vitamins (including but not limited to vitamin B-12, folic acid, or iron)
  • Allergies to foods, which causes this painful reaction

It is possible for anyone to develop a canker sore. However, they are known to run in families. Women also appear to get them more often.

Symptoms Related to Canker Sores

Canker sores usually appear on the inside of someone’s lips, cheeks, tongue, base of his or her gums, and the roof of the mouth.

There are several symptoms that come along with canker sores:

  • One or multiple red, painful spots or bumps that become an actual open ulcer
  • Contain a yellow or white center
  • They become gray as they start to heal
  • Are usually less than one-third inch or 1 centimeter in size
  • Less often, the person will experience a fever and general uneasiness or discomfort, as well as swollen lymph nodes

Tests and Exams

If you visit a healthcare provider, he or she can offer a diagnosis upon seeing it up close.

Tests can be done to determine what the causes could be if someone has recurring canker sores. This can include drug allergies, a herpes infection, or bullous lichen planus. This may mean that you will have to receive a biopsy to get a sample of the tissue in order to figure out what is going on.

Though canker sores are not cancerous in and of themselves, some types of cancer can seem to be a mouth ulcer at first. For this reason, it is crucial to take a closer look if the sore persists.

How to Treat Canker Sores

For the most part, a canker sore will go away without using any treatment on it. However, you will want to avoid eating spicy or hot foods, as this can cause you further discomfort. You can take over-the-counter pain medication to reduce the pain.

Another thing that may help quite a bit is to rinse the area using a mild mouthwash that does not have any alcohol in it. Also, you can rinse your mouth with salt water to numb the area and start healing it. Some instances may require that the individual takes a stronger medicine known as a corticosteroid.

Prognosis for Canker Sores

Your pain should decrease after just a few days. The majority of mouth ulcers or canker sores will last for 7 to 10 days. If it has not cleared up within 2 weeks, you should contact your doctor to have it checked out. If you end up having canker sores more than 2 or 3 times within a year, you should reach out to your doctor.

As you can see, there is relatively little to be concerned about when you have a canker sore. Of course, it is good to keep an eye on it and be in touch with a medical professional if you have any concerns. Always keep in mind – in most instances, what you worry about being cancer may be simply a mouth sore.

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Last Reviewed:
July 02, 2017
Last Updated:
October 16, 2017
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