Oral Cancer

About two-thirds of oral cancer in the mouth or oral cavity occurs in the floor of the mouth and tongue, but can occur in the upper or lower jaw, lips, gums, and cheek lining. Just behind the mouth is an area known as the orophyarnx. Oropharyngeal cancer (one-third of cases) occurs in the back of the tongue, tonsils, and throat tissue. Oral cancer kills one American every hour of every day, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Early detection offers the best chance of survival, yet only one-third of oral cancer is found in the earliest stages when treatment is most effective.

Who are most at risk?

  • Smokers: People who use tobacco are six times more likely to develop oral cancer. Eight of 10 oral cancer patients are smokers.
  • Heavy alcohol drinkers: 80 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer consume more than 21 drinks weekly.
  • HPV infected: People with history of oral human papilloma virus infections are at greater risk to develop oral cancer even if they don’t smoke or drink.

What are the warning signs?

  • Red or white patches in or behind the mouth
  • Mouth sores or ulcers that bleed easily and do not heal
  • Unexplained lump in the neck, throat, or floor of the mouth
  • Difficulty or discomfort swallowing
  • Pain and tenderness in teeth or gums
  • Change in the fit of dentures or partial dentures
  • Visible change in mouth tissue
  • Unpleasant sensations (pain, discomfort, numbness)
  • Diminished ability to perform normal functions such as opening jaw, chewing, or swallowing
  • Unexplained swelling or fullness in the neck

Would you like to learn more? Read these frequently asked questions about oral cancer.

The American College of Prosthodontists maintains a position statement on Oral Cancer Screening.