Could that Sore in Your Mouth be Cancer?

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Oral cancer can be present anywhere in your mouth (oral cavity), on your tongue, lips, or in your throat or voice box (pharynx).  In addition, other head and neck cancers can be found in your nasal cavity, sinuses, tonsils, thyroid glands or salivary glands. These types of cancer account for nearly 4% of all cancers in the United States (1).

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April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

Take our Quiz on Head and Neck Cancers

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If you’re at increased risk of head and neck cancer, is it important to visit your dentist regularly?

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Men are more at risk of head and neck cancer than women.  True or False?

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What is a good way to reduce your risk of head and neck cancers?

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The average score is 50%



Symptoms can include sores in the mouth that won’t go away, lumps in the mouth, bleeding gums, swelling in the jaw or trouble chewing and swallowing when eating.  Also, red patches in the mouth that are persistent, and do not have an obvious cause should be of concern, because they can develop into cancer about 20 to 30 percent of the time.

Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle

When you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce the risk of getting this type of cancer. Consequently, that means avoiding tobacco products, alcohol, unprotected sex or a lot of salty snacks.  Alcohol and tobacco use have long been linked to cancers of the head and neck. In addition, infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease can also be a factor. These HPV-associated head and neck cancers tend to form in the tonsils or other areas at the back of the throat. (2)

Early Detection Is Important

Cancer found in the mouth or throat are often curable if found early enough. Seeing your dentist regularly is an effective way to discover these types of cancers early. Your dentist can look for any signs of cancer in your mouth during a checkup. Treatment of head and neck cancers requires the assistance of many different professionals.  For example:

  • otolaryngology surgeons
  • radiation oncologists
  • medical oncologists
  • endocrinologists
  • nutritionists
  • speech therapists

However, a good place to start is with your dentist.

In the meantime, be sure to brush and floss daily and eat healthy to limit your risk.  And, if you spot any unusual changes in your mouth or are experiencing pain or any of the symptoms listed above, don’t wait until your next dental checkup.

In short, schedule an appointment with your dentist today.

April is National Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month.

Help us spread the word.

1. NIH / National Cancer Institute  

2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center