Oral Cancer

Approximately 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. The term oral cancer refers to cancers located in any part of the mouth and the top part of the throat, called the pharynx. The following information outlines who is most at risk, the symptoms of oral cancer and the importance of early detection.


Who is most at risk for oral cancer?
Oral cancer most often strikes adults over the age of 40 and affects twice as many men than women. Those individuals who use any form of tobacco products, especially combined with the use of alcohol, are at increased risk for oral cancer. However, more than 25 percent of oral cancers occur in non-smokers with no other risk factors.

How can I lower my risk for oral cancer?
Oral cancer can be prevented by eliminating risk factors such as tobacco product use and excessive alcohol consumption. Using a lip balm that contains sunscreen also will reduce the risk of lip cancer. Additionally, studies indicate that eating fruits and vegetables as part of a low-fat, high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of cancer.

What are some of the symptoms for oral cancer?
Symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Sores in the mouth or on lips that do not heal.
  • A lump or discolored patches on the inside of the mouth.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw and tongue.
  • Swelling of the jaw that changes the way teeth fit together or how dentures fit.
  • Pain or numbness in parts of the mouth

How can I detect early signs of oral cancer?
Dentists recommend you check your mouth monthly. If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, contact your dentist immediately.

Sometimes an oral spot or sore may be difficult to see without the help of a dentist.  Your dentist will examine your mouth during your six-month check-up. If your dentist identifies an area of concern, he or she can test it to determine whether or not the area is cancerous.


American Cancer Society
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Oral Cancer Foundation
National Cancer Institute
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
News Release: PDA Stresses Importance of Screenings to Detect Oral Cancer
WITF Radio Smart Talk - Dr. Bill Spruill, former PDA president