Many people worry that a newly discovered lump in the jaw is cancer, and hope to dear God that it’s only a swollen muscle, perhaps caused by TMJ disorder or something else benign.

Discovering a new lump anywhere in the body is frightening, since people have become accustomed to associating this symptom with cancer.

TMJ Disorder

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is also known as TMD.

“Yes, sometimes TMD can cause certain jaw muscles to swell up if it is inflamed or overworked due to grinding or clenching,” says Dr. Haissam Dahan, DMD, MSc, PhD, lecturer at Harvard and McGill University and owner of Ottawa TMJ & Sleep Apnea Clinic.

“Grinding occurs at night, whereas clenching usually happens during the daytime,” says Dr. Dahan.

“Oral cancer rarely starts with a swollen muscle, so no need to worry about that. Oral cancer usually begins with numbness or tingling in the tongue, cheeks or lips.”

Keep in mind that smoking is a strong risk factor for oral cancer.

Can Another Kind of Cancer Cause a Lump in the Jaw? swollen muscle

First off, make sure that every time your dentist gives you an exam, it includes an oral cancer screening. If this costs extra money, it’s well worth it.

The tumor may be found on the tongue, gum or roof of the mouth, and dentists are trained at spotting suspicious lesions.

They don’t diagnose cancer, but they can recommend that you see your primary care physician for further evaluation.

Now, a type of cancer called soft-tissue can arise anywhere in the body where there is soft tissue including muscle.

There are also benign soft-tissue tumors. Soft-tissue tumors, whether benign or malignant, are very rare.

“The vast majority of swollen lumps on the jaw or around the neck is going to be related to trauma or inflammation around lymph nodes,” says Mark Levandovsky, MD, Founder and Medical Director of Preventive Medicine and Cancer Care.

Dr. Levandovsky is a board certified internist and oncologist/hematologist in practice for 20 years.

He adds, “Soft tissue cancers are exceedingly uncommon, constituting less than 5% of all cancers — and they are less commonly confined to the face.”

In addition, a metastasized cancer can make its way to the jaw bone, forming a lump. This is very uncommon, though.

Doctors urge their patients to conduct monthly self-exams of the skin and breast to screen for any signs of cancer.

But doctors don’t tell patients to feel their jaw every month. That’s because a lump in the jaw that’s cancer is exceedingly rare!

Plus, the anxiety that would be caused by monthly self-jaw exams would far outweigh the practicality.

Dr. Dahan is a general dentist with a focus on TMJ disorder, facial pain, snoring and sleep apnea management.

Dr. Levandovsky provides personalized care to health conscious individuals as well as cancer patients and survivors, focusing on an integration of genetic/molecular risk assessments, prevention, education, nutrition and psycho-oncology.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 



Top image: Shutterstock/ Dmitry Tkachev