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Oral cancer – What to Know

A trip to the dentist isn’t just good practice – it could actually save your life.

Besides filling a cavity (and other procedures) your dentist can identify potential oral and oropharyngeal cancers. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, roughly 54,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease this year alone. Oral cancer also has a high death rate because it is often diagnosed too late after spreading to another part of the body.

Remember, early detection is key when it comes to diagnosing and treating oral and oropharyngeal cancer. At Horizon Dental, we’re here to help you find the best dental care professionals to achieve your best oral health.

Find a participating dentist, oral surgeon or other oral health professional

Risk factors

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection (the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer)
  • If you smoke (cigarettes or cigars)
  • If you use oral tobacco products (snuff, dip, spit, chew, dissolvable tobacco, Betel quid and gutka)
  • If you drink alcohol (heavy drinkers have a higher risk than light drinkers)
  • Your gender (oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers are twice as common in men than women)
  • If you have excess body weight
  • Your age
  • Most patients with these cancers are older than 55 when the cancers are first found
  • HPV-linked cancers tend to be diagnosed in people younger than 50
  • Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light (cancers of the lip are more common in people who have outdoor jobs where they are exposed to sunlight for long periods of time)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Genetic syndromes including fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenital

Signs and symptoms

  • An ulcer or sore that does not heal within two to three weeks
  • A red, white, or black discoloration on soft tissues in the mouth
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • A sensation that things are sticking in the throat when swallowing
  • A swollen but painless tonsil
  • Pain when chewing
  • A persistent sore throat or hoarse voice
  • Swelling or lump in the mouth
  • A painless lump on the outside of the neck that has been there for at least two weeks
  • A numb feeling in the mouth or lips
  • Constant coughing
  • An ear ache on one side that lasts for more than a few days

Note: Poor oral hygiene overall may put you at risk for developing oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Scheduling regular dental visits, as well as brushing and flossing daily, may lessen these risks and have many other health benefits, too.