April 1, 2023

Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Nearly every hour of every day, one person will die due to oral and pharyngeal cancer. This article will review the statistics, risk factors, signs and symptoms, and more.

What is Oral Cancer?

First, it’s important to define, “What is Oral Cancer?” According to the National Cancer Institute, oral cancer is “Cancer that forms in tissues of the oral cavity (the mouth) or the oropharynx (the part of the throat at the back of the mouth).”


To understand the gravity of oral cancer, the statistics speak for themselves. As reported by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the following statements regard the prevalence of oral cancer.

  • An estimated 49,750 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed each year.
  • Oral cancer will claim 9,750 lives annually.
  • On average, 43% of those with the disease will not survive more than 5 years after diagnosis.

Risk Factors

While doctors, surgeons, and researchers are constantly working to better understand and identify the cause of oral cancer entirely, there are a few known risk factors. Oral cancer risk factors include:

  • Tobacco – Smoked and smokeless; smokeless tobacco poses a greater risk for cancer of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.
  • Alcohol – specifically, the combination of tobacco and alcohol increases risk
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – Sexually transmitted HPV16 is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer.
  • Sun or tanning bed exposure – It is important to limit exposure and use a lip balm with a high SPF.
  •  Age – Historically, oral cancer has been a disease of those 40+. However, incidence is those under 40 is rising.

Signs and Symptoms

Dental professionals routinely perform oral cancer screenings during dental appointments. However, it’s also important to be familiar with signs and symptoms for self-exams. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Leukoplakia – white patches of the oral tissues
  • Erythroleukoplakia – red and white patches of the oral tissues
  • Abnormal lump or thickening of the oral tissues
  • Mass or lump in the neck
  • A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal

The most common sites for oral cancer include the lateral border of the tongue, alveolar gingiva and mucosa, ventral surface of the tongue, and the floor of the mouth.


It’s important to form self-exams regularly. The more familiar you are with your normal anatomy, the more keen you’ll be to notice any changes. If you have any risk factors, it’s advised that you make a yearly dental appointment for a professional exam. The earlier cancer is detected, the easier treatment and chance for a cure.