Managing Oral Precancerous Growths

An oral precancerous lesion, also called dysplasia, is a growth that contains abnormal cells confined to the lining of the oral cavity, or mouth. This lining is called the mucosa. It covers the inside of the cheeks, the inside of the lips, the gums, the tongue, and the roof and floor of the mouth.

After your NYU Langone doctor performs a biopsy, a pathologist can determine whether you have mild, moderate, or severe dysplasia based on how unusual the cells appear.

People with severe dysplasia have a high risk of developing oral cancer. Those with mild dysplasia have a low risk. Knowing whether someone has mild, moderate, or severe dysplasia can help doctors determine the best way to manage these precancerous growths.

Taking preventive measures, such as avoiding tobacco use and limiting alcohol intake, is important. Your doctor may also decide that a precancerous lesion may require observation or treatment.


Doctors may recommend observation if you have mild dysplasia, which has a low risk of becoming cancerous. Observation may involve frequent visits to an oral cancer specialist, who can examine the precancerous growth for any changes. These visits occur on a schedule determined by your doctor.

Surgical Removal

If you have moderate or severe dysplasia, which has a greater chance of becoming cancerous, doctors remove the lesion and a small margin of healthy tissue using a small scalpel or laser beam. They may use a local anesthetic to perform the surgery.

You may return home the same day. Doctors can prescribe medication for any pain or discomfort you may experience afterward.