Oral Cancer


Getting an oral exam at the dentist means more than hunting for cavities and evaluating your home care. Vital to each exam is a thorough check for oral cancer.

Each year, more than 30,000 new cases of cancer of the mouth and throat are diagnosed. Almost three quarters of oral and throat cancers are caused by tobacco. Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth, tongue, lips, throat, parts of the nose, and larynx. The five-year survival rate for these cancers is only about 50 percent.

Since early detection is so important, your first line of defense is to know your mouth and check it regularly. When brushing and flossing LOOK at your gums, tongue, back of your throat, EVERYWHERE. If you notice any changes in the way your mouth looks, or any of these signs and symptoms, contact your dentist immediately:

  • A mouth sore that does not heal or that bleeds easily.
  • A white or red patch in the mouth that will not go away.
  • A lump, thickening or soreness in the mouth, throat, or on the tongue.
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing food, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue.


Most early signs of oral cancer are painless and hard to discover without a complete exam by a dentist or physician. However, oral and throat cancers can be detected early and early treatment is more successful. This is why regular dental exams leading to early detection are so important. This can greatly reduce the risk of these life-threatening cancers.

What can you do to reduce your risk of developing oral cancers? Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help prevent oral cancers. Eliminate any risky, cancer-causing habits, especially tobacco and alcohol use.

Keep in mind, both drinking alcohol and smoking or chewing tobacco each can promote the development of oral cancer; when you do both together they increase your chances of developing an oral cancer by over 15 times the normal rate of nonusers. And visit your Michigan Dental Association dentist regularly for a thorough exam, including an oral cancer screening.