There are several conditions that share symptoms with early-stage mouth cancer. Early-stage mouth cancer may appear as a white or gray patch on the tongue, cheek or floor of the mouth, states WebMD. Other conditions that can cause white patches are viruses, fungal infections and physical trauma to the mouth.
The name for white spots in the mouth is leukoplakia. Leukoplakia most often occurs in seniors. True leukoplakia cannot be rubbed off, unlike oral fungal candida infections, states WebMD.
While leukoplakia itself is not harmful or dangerous, WebMD and Mayo Clinic recommend cancer screening of any spots that persist for more than two weeks. Dentists or oral surgeons conduct a needle biopsy of the site and send it for analysis to rule out cancer. Dental inspection can also determine whether the spot is a type of leukoplakia called hairy leukoplakia, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
There are several presumed causes of leukoplakia, including tobacco use, irritation from teeth, ill-fitting dentures and the Epstein-Barr virus. Treatment for leukoplakia depends on the cause. If the cause is mechanical irritation of the tissue, smoothing the teeth or oral appliance will resolve the problem. If the cause is tobacco use, cessation may cure leukoplakia, states Mayo Clinic. If these don't resolve the problem, dentists or oral surgeons may surgically remove the patch, states WebMD.