Oral Cancer


Your dentist may be able to detect some oral precancers and cancers early. Visit your dentist every six months and ask for an oral cancer exam.

Tobacco and alcohol use are among the strongest risk factors for oral cancer.

What Puts You at Increased Risk for Oral Cancer?

You are at risk for oral cancer if you:

  • Chew or smoke tobacco.
  • Drink alcohol in excess.
  • Are exposed to sunlight for long periods of time.
  • Have an immune system that has been weakened by certain medications.
  • Have a certain type of HPV (increases risk for oropharyngeal cancer).

Reduce Your Risk

  • Do not smoke or use tobacco in any way. If you do, quit.
  • If you drink, limit your drinking to one drink a day if you are a woman or to one or two a day if you are a man. Drinking alcohol is linked to oral and several other cancers. The more you drink, the greater your risk of cancer. Drinking even small amounts may increase your risk.
  • Follow the guidelines for HPV vaccination.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid being in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when sunlight is strongest.
  • Always use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher with UVA and UVB protection.
  • Visit your dentist every 6 months and ask for an oral cancer exam.


  • White or red patches on lips, gums, tongue or mouth lining
  • A lump which can be felt inside the mouth or on the neck
  • Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • Hoarseness lasting a long time
  • Numbness or pain in any area of the mouth that does not go away
  • Swelling of the jaw

Additional Symptoms 

  • Loosening of teeth
  • Changes in how dentures fit the mouth
  • Bleeding in the mouth
  • A sore on the lips or in the mouth that does not go away
  • An earache that does not go away

If you have any of these symptoms, see your dentist or other health care provider right away.

Treatment Options

Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and newer targeted therapies may be used alone or in combination.

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