oral cancerPink ribbons declare the importance of breast cancer awareness month, and men are encouraged to be screened for prostate cancer, but when was the last time you were checked for oral cancer? Early detection is equally important for treating oral cancer, and your ear, nose, and throat physician can help.

What is oral cancer and who is at risk?

Oral cancer is cancer that develops in any part of the mouth, lips, or the back part of the throat (oropharynx). Each year, an estimated 30,000 Americans – most over 60 years old—are diagnosed with oral cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition, oral cancer kills more Americans than cervical cancer, malignant melanoma or Hodgkin’s disease.

While anyone can develop cancer at any age, those at highest risk for developing oral cancer are:

  • Those over 40 years old
  • Those who use tobacco products – including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff
  • Those with heavy alcohol use
  • Those who use alcohol and tobacco –  these create a greater risk combined than by using either one alone
  • Anyone with a family history of oral cancer
  • Those with extensive sun exposure, which increases the of developing lip cancer
  • Those with a diet low in fruits and vegetables

    Symptoms of oral cancer

    1. White or red patches in the mouth
    2. Difficulty swallowing
    3. Loose teeth
    4. Numbness of lower lip
    5. Problems moving the jaw or tongue
    6. A consistent feeling that something is stuck in the throat
    7. A sore, irritation, or lump in the mouth, lip, or throat


    If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to be evaluated by a physician because other health problems may cause similar symptoms.  Your ENT physician can easily conduct an oral cancer screening by examining your throat, the inside of your cheek and lips, and the roof of your mouth.

    Early detection is vital. One of the reasons oral cancer has a low 5-year survival rate when compared to other major cancers is because many cancerous lesions are not diagnosed until they are in an advanced stage. However, if detected early, the survival rate for oral cancer is better than that of most cancers.

    Because of the importance of early detection, April is designated as Oral Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month.  While use of tobacco products remains a high risk factor for oral cancer, the disease is also among the rise in young non-smokers because of the prevalence of the HPV virus.

    If you'd like more information, visit the Oral Cancer Foundation.



    National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer.

    The Oral Cancer Foundation. Health Promotion in Oral Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. (n.d.).