April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to raise public awareness of the disease.

According to National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates, there were more than 40,000 cases of oral and pharynx (throat) cancer in 2013 and nearly 7,900 deaths. NCI estimates that 1.4 percent of all cancer deaths are from oral cancers.

The two most common pathways by which most people develop oral cancer are through tobacco and alcohol use and through exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) - the same virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women.

Oral cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore somewhere in the mouth and often goes unnoticed until it has metastasized (spread) into another part of the body. It can affect any area of the mouth including the lips, gums, cheek lining, tongue, and the hard or soft palate. When found early, oral cancers have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. Dental professionals can act as a first line of defense in the early detection of oral cancer.

Knowing the early signs can increase survival. Early signs include:

  • a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal;
  • a color change of the oral tissues;
  • a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area;
  • pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips;
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue; and
  • a change in the way the teeth fit together.

Dentists are reminded to share MouthHealthy.org's educational information with patients. Dentists also can print CDA's oral cancer fact sheet and share it with their patients. The fact sheet is available in multiple languages and can be viewed at cda.org/public-resources/patient-fact-sheets.