What Are Your Risks for Oral Cancer? Be Aware

We may not hear a lot about oral cancer, but this year about 42,000 people will hear they have it. And 8,000 will die from oral cancer.

Understanding the disease and your risks can help you reduce your chances of an oral cancer diagnosis.

Early detection is important. About 60 percent of individuals with the disease will survive more than five years.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer includes cancers of the floor of the mouth, tongue, cheeks (buccal cavity), lips and throat (pharynx – the back of the throat). With this disease, cancer (malignant) cells form in the mouth and can grow out of control.

What Are The Risk Factors?

  • Tobacco use — includes any use of tobacco such as smoking and smokeless tobacco (snuff chewing tobacco).
  • Alcohol use — especially heavy use. Risk is double with 3 to 4 drinks per day, and 5 times higher with 5 or more drinks per day.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use — using both poses a greater risk than either substance alone.
  • HPV exposure — infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (specifically the HPV 16 type). Practice safe sex.
  • Sun exposure — can result in cancer of the lip. An effective sunscreen can help.

Reducing Your Risks

To reduce your chances of cancer in general, reduce or eliminate risks you can control.

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise

What Are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

If you notice one of the signs or symptoms and it lasts more than two weeks, see your health care professional or your dentist.

  • A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip or throat.
  • A white or red patch in your mouth.
  • A feeling that something is caught in your throat.
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue.
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth.
  • Swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss.

Oral cancer is a disease that’s more treatable when detected early. An exam for oral cancer is painless and takes only a few minutes. During a regular dental exam, your dentist or hygienist can check your face, neck, lips and entire mouth for possible signs of cancer.

If diagnosed, your treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Your health care provider can answer questions you may have about the disease and its treatment.

Meet the Author

Martin John Corsten, MD is a head and neck surgeon with the Aurora Neuroscience Innovation Institute in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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