April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

This annual observance emphasizes the importance of an oral cancer screening. Early detection is your best defense. If diagnosed early, it can help doctors treat it more successfully and increase long-term survival.

Each year doctors and dentists diagnose approximately 54,000 people with oral cancer and about 11,230 people die from the disease. Oral cancer accounts for about 3% of all new cancers diagnosed every year in the United States (HRSA).

Types of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can appear inside the mouth and throat. Oral cancer is classified in two (2) groups:

  1. Cancer of the oral cavity. This affects your lips, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue, the floor and roof of your mouth, and the inside of your cheeks.
  2. Cancer of the oropharynx. This group is found in the throat, tonsils, the base of your tongue and the spot where it attaches on the floor of your mouth.

Risk factors for Oral Cancer

Men are twice as likely as women to have oral cancer. The risk also increases with age. Meaning older adults are generally at a higher risk. The following factors can also increase the risk for oral cancer:

  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Using tobacco in any way, including smoking cigarettes, vaping, or chewing, puts you at risk for oral cancer. Heavy alcohol use also increases your risk. Using tobacco plus alcohol poses a much greater risk than using either one alone. Visit OC Links or call 855-625-4657 to find treatment programs for alcohol or substance use in Orange County. For free quit smoking and vaping cessation services in Orange County, call 1-866-NEW-LUNG (1-866-639-5864).
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). In the past 20 years, oral cancer related to HPV has doubled; in fact, oral cancer is now the most common HPV-related cancer in the United States (NIH).
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. Exposure to UV light from the sun or tanning beds can cause cancer of the lips.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

It is important to see a dentist or doctor if you have any of the following symptoms for more than two (2) weeks:

  • A sore, irritation, lump, or thick patch in your mouth, on your lip, or throat.
  • A white or red patch in your mouth.
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking.
  • Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue.
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth.
  • Swelling of the jaw; if you wear dentures, this could feel like your dentures have become uncomfortable or no longer fit well.

Regular Dental Visits Can Detect Early Signs of Oral Cancer

Visit your dentist regularly. A routine dental visit is an excellent opportunity to have an oral cancer screening, as it can help detect early signs of oral cancer. A screening, which is part of a full dental check-up, is painless and takes less than a minute. This is another good reason to see your dentist regularly.

Related Resources

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