Lowering the Risk of Oral Cancer

May 21, 2001

About 22 percent of American adults smoke regularly. Alcohol use is also common among this group. Frequent, long-term use of both tobacco and alcohol can heighten the risk of developing oral cancer – as much as a hundred fold compared with nonsmokers – non-drinkers.
Each year, more than 30,000 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx are diagnosed. Unless discovered in its early stages, it spreads and kills half of all patients within five years of diagnosis.

Methods used to treat oral cancers, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, can be disfiguring and costly. Preventing high-risk behaviors, including tobacco use of any kind and excessive use of alcohol, are critical in preventing oral cancer.

Here are some signs and symptoms of oral cancer:

  • a mouth sore that fails to heal
  • a white or red patch in the mouth that
    will not go away, especially on the side of the tongue, the floor of the
    mouth or near the soft palate
  • a lump, thickening or soreness in the mouth,
    throat, or tongue
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing food.

Most early signs of oral cancer are not painful, and they are difficult to detect without a thorough head and neck examination by a medical or dental professional. Adults should have a yearly oral cancer exam after 40, especially if they smoke, dip or chew tobacco of any kind. Visit your dentist and discuss kicking the habit.

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