Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Diagnosis

How is oral cancer diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for oral cancer may include one or more of the following:

  • Biopsy – a procedure in which tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) – a noninvasive procedure that takes cross-sectional images of the brain or other internal organs to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary X-ray. 
  • Ultrasonography – a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a noninvasive procedure that produces two-dimensional view of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord.

Once a diagnosis is made, the cancer will be staged (to determine the extent of the disease) before a treatment plan is established.