What you need to know about oral cancer

Oral cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity (the mouth and the lips) or the oropharynx (the part of the throat at the back of the mouth).

Each year in the United States, there are more than 200,000 cases of oral cancer!

What are the risk factors?

Tobacco: Tobacco use causes the most oral cancers. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, or even using smokeless tobacco (chewing or snuff) causes oral cancer as well.

Heavy alcohol use: People who are heavy drinkers are more likely to develop oral cancer than people who don’t drink alcohol.

HPV infection: Some members of the HPV family of viruses can infect the mouth and throat.

Sun: Cancer of the lip can be caused by exposure to the sun. Using a lotion or lip balm that has sunscreen in it can reduce this risk. Even wearing a hat can help block the sun’s harmful rays.

History of oral cancer: People who have had oral cancer before are at a higher risk of developing another form of oral cancer, especially if they are a smoker.

Diet: Some studies suggest that not eating enough fruits and veggies may increase the chance of getting oral cancer. It’s important to have a good, healthy diet!

The more risk factors that a person has, the greater the chance that oral cancer will develop. However, most people with known risk factors for oral cancer don’t develop the disease.


  • Patches inside your mouth or on your lips (white patches, red patches or mixed with red and white)
  • A sore on your lip or in your mouth that doesn’t heal.
  • Bleeding in your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty wearing dentures
  • A lump in your neck
  • An earache that doesn’t go away
  • Numbness of lower lip and chin

Although with these symptoms, there could be other health problems other than oral cancer.  It is still very important to tell your doctor or dentist about any symptoms so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible!

If you have symptoms that suggest oral cancer, our dentists will check your mouth and throat for white or red patches, lumps, swelling, or other problems. A physical exam includes looking carefully into your mouth, back of throat, and insides of cheeks and lips. Our dentists will also gently pull out your tongue so it can be checked on the sides and underneath. The floor of your mouth and lymph nodes in your neck will be checked too. If anything is found suspicious, then a biopsy will be taken to be examined.

Feel free to call us with any questions or concerns or if you would like an oral cancer screening!