This post has been updated from April 2021.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a cause and initiative that we strongly believe in promoting and addressing. One important message that we try to emphasize to our patients is that regular dental checkups are about more than just your oral health, they’re about your health in general. Every 6-months when you come in to visit with us, one of the actions we’re taking during your checkup includes performing an oral cancer screening. To assist in our cancer prevention efforts, we will check your lips, head, neck, tonsils, salivary glands and mouth tissues (like the surface of your tongue) for any visible signs of oral cancer. This helps us to identify any abnormalities within the mouth or symptoms that could possibly lead to oral cancer.
Oral Cancer Statistics
According to Cancer.org, the most recent estimates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in the United States for 2023 are:
- About 54,540 new cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer
- About 11,580 deaths from oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer
Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers occur most often in the following sites:
- The tongue
- The tonsils & oropharynx (the part of the throat behind the mouth)
- The gums, floor of the mouth, and other parts of the mouth
The rest are found in the lips, the minor salivary glands (which often occur in the roof of the mouth), and other sites.
It’s important to note that while the average age of people diagnosed with these cancers is 64, they can occur in young people. Just over 20% (1 in 5) of cases occur in people younger than 55. Additionally, these cancers are more than twice as common in men than in women. They are also slightly more common in White people than in Black people. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer is about 1 in 60 for men and 1 in 141 for women.
The death rate for cancers of the mouth and throat increased by 0.4% per year from 2009 through 2020, after decades of decline. It’s important to note that this is mainly because of an increase in oropharyngeal cancer mortality of almost 2% per year during that time.
Potential Signs & Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer has been largely attributed to heavy tobacco usage as well as excessive alcohol usage, though those are not the only causes. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
- Sores or ulcerations that last longer than 2 weeks
- Any type of oral abnormality that bleeds upon touching
- Lumps or hard spots located in the tissue, usually found on or around the border of the tongue
- A sore under a denture that does not heal, even after being adjusted
- A lump or thickened surface that develops in the mouth
- Red, white or black discoloration of the tissue in the mouth
- Firm, fixated and painless lump found on the outside of the neck
In general, you should get any mouth-related sore, lump or hard spot that has persisted and hasn’t resolved itself checked by your oral healthcare professional.
About Oral Cancer Awareness Month
For each April over the past few decades, several of the nation’s top dental associations have joined together with the Oral Cancer Foundation to raise awareness for oral and oropharyngeal cancers. These organizations include the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD Foundation), the Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, the American Academy of Oral Medicine, the American Academy of Periodontology, and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association among others. This is an important reminder to the public that when these cancers are detected and treated early, then mortality and treatment related health problems are reduced.
As always, we encourage you to contact us with any general or immediate questions or concerns regarding the state of your oral health. We’re committed to making your dental visit as comfortable as possible!