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Get the Facts about Mouth and Throat Cancer

Did you know that your dentist can check for signs of cancer at every visit?

Mouth and throat cancers can be deadly diseases. As recently as 2019, there were 53,000 new cases of mouth and throat cancer diagnosed and about 10,000 deaths from these cancers. Men are more than twice as likely to develop mouth and throat cancers as women.

Finding cancer early is important. Treatment may be more successful with mouth and throat cancers that are found early. Your dentist can check for these cancers every time you visit, so this is one more reason to see your dentist regularly.

This page will tell you some ways to lower your risk for mouth and throat cancer. By watching for the signs and symptoms listed here, you are more likely to find the cancer earlier if you do have it.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Check your mouth in the mirror each day when you brush and floss. If there are any changes in your mouth or neck, or if you notice any of these signs or symptoms, contact your dentist.

Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer:

  • a sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
  • red or white patches
  • pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth, jaw or lips
  • a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your jaw or tongue
  • a change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
  • loosening of the teeth

Be aware of any changes in your mouth or throat.

Additional signs and symptoms of throat cancer include:

  • lump or grow-fluidth in the throat or neck area
  • cough or sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • hoarseness or other changes in your voice

Am I at Risk for Mouth or Throat Cancer?

Anyone can get cancer. There are some factors that you can control—such as using any form of tobacco or heavy alcohol consumption—which increase your risk of getting mouth or throat cancer. Below is more information about factors that can affect your chance of developing these cancers.

  • Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are two of the biggest risk factors. Tobacco use includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco like chew or dip.
  • People who use tobacco products and drink alcohol have a greater chance of developing mouth or throat cancer than if they only did one or the other.
  • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause some forms of cancer in the back of the mouth or throat. HPV is very common and many people are not even aware that they have been infected.
  • Spending long periods of time in the sun increases your risk of developing lip cancer.
  • The risk of mouth and throat cancer increases with age. Though not always the case, it can occur more often in people over the age of 50.

How Can I Lower My Risk for Mouth and Throat Cancer?

  • As part of your oral hygiene routine, watch for changes in the soft tissues of your mouth.
  • Avoid all tobacco products, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
  • Avoid heavy alcohol use.
  • Talk to your physician or dentist about the HPV vaccine, especially for pre-teens aged 11 or 12.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Visit your dentist for regular mouth and throat cancer check-ups.

When you quit using tobacco, your risk of developing mouth and throat cancers goes down.

How Can My Dentist Help?

During a dental exam, your dentist may check your face, neck and mouth for lumps, red or white patches and sore areas that do not heal. Your dentist can check for signs of mouth or throat cancers visually, manually or with a combination of these methods.

Be sure to tell your dentist if you notice any changes in your mouth or neck. If signs of cancer are found early, treatment may be more successful. If you have any concerns about mouth and throat cancer, talk with your dentist. It may help save your life.

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