You may not know that April is Oral Cancer Awareness month. Oral cancer isn't talked about as much or as often as some other types of cancer. However, that doesn't mean that it's not a serious and important topic. The truth is that oral cancer is a particularly deadly form of cancer, largely because it's often not discovered until the disease has already spread to other parts of the body. That's part of the reason why, of the more than 48,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, only a little more than half of those people will still be alive in five years. Take a look at what you need to know about oral cancer.

Are You At Risk?

There are a variety of risk factors for oral cancer. First of all, men are more likely to develop the disease than women, and people over 55 are at more risk than younger people. If you work outdoors or spend a lot of time in the sun, you're also at greater risk because of your exposure to ultraviolet rays. There are some genetic conditions, like fanconi anemia, and some illnesses, like HPV, that can also predispose you to developing oral cancer.

Lifestyle factors are by far some of the biggest risk factors for oral cancer. A large portion of people diagnosed with oral cancer use some type of tobacco product, such as cigarettes, snuff, or chewing tobacco. Heavy alcohol use is also a significant risk factor.


The early symptoms of oral cancer can sometimes be mistaken for other illnesses or dental conditions. It's important to be aware of what the symptoms are so that you can bring them to the attention of your dentist if you notice them. Your dentist can conduct further screening to rule cancer out or recommend more testing. Oral cancer symptoms include:

  • Numbness in your tongue
  • Sore throat
  • Pain in one ear
  • Sores, lesions, or red or white patches in your mouth
  • Loose teeth (with no obvious dental cause)
  • Feeling a lump in your throat that won't go away
  • Swelling or lumps in your gums, cheeks, or tongue

Oral Cancer Screenings

Your dentist can conduct oral cancer screenings to check for signs of abnormalities that you may not have noticed. These screenings can be done during an ordinary dental exam – your dentist will look for red or white patches and loose teeth, and feel your gums and cheeks with their hands to check for lumps or swelling.

Your dentist may also shine a light in your mouth that can highlight abnormal tissues. The light makes the normal tissues look dark, but abnormal tissues will light up and appear white. There is also a special mouth rinse made with blue dye that you may be asked to use. The dye in the rinse clings to abnormal cells, highlighting the areas of concern.

Ask your dentist to do a screening for oral cancer at your next appointment. If you're overdue for a dental checkup, make an appointment today. Oral Cancer Awareness month is a great time to check up on your own oral health. Visit for more information.