Oral Cancer: What You Need to Know

Oral cancer is any cancer that develops in the lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth and floor of the mouth (under the tongue). Also related, mouth cancer is one of several types of cancers which are grouped into a category called head and neck cancers. This year, doctors and dentists will diagnose an estimated 54,010 adults (38,800 men and 15,210 women) in the United States with oral cancer.  

Oral Cancer Stats

  • Twice as many men as women have mouth cancer. 
  • The eighth most common cancer among men is Oral cancer.
  • The average age of diagnosis is 62. 
  • About 25% of cases occur in people younger than 55. However these cancers rarely affect children.
  • 10,850 deaths (7,620 men and 3,230 women) resulting from oral cancer will occur this year. 
  • The overall 5-year survival rate for people with oral or oropharyngeal cancer is 66%.
  • The death rate for oral cancer is higher than more widely known cancers such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and many others.
  • Patients who survive a first encounter with the disease have a higher risk of developing a second, related cancer. That increased risk can last for 5 to 10 years.
  • Biopsy is the best way to properly diagnose oral and oropharyngeal tumors and lesions.
  • Patients on immunosuppression medications — typically those who had an organ transplant — have an increased risk of head and neck cancer.

Diagnosing Oral Cancer

Historically, the death rate associated with mouth cancers is particularly high. This is not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but because patients don’t recognize the warning signs until it is late in its development. This is why it is so important to regularly visit your dental health professional. Dentists are able to recognize, identify and diagnose, as well as treat, most forms of oral cancer. 

Signs & Symptoms

  • Bleeding and/or numbness of the mouth
  • Canker sores
  • Changes in your voice or speech problems
  • Difficulty moving the jaw
  • Loose tooth
  • Lumps in the mouth
  • Lumps on the lymph nodes that do not go away
  • Mixed red and white spots in the mouth
  • Numbness of the lower lip and chin
  • Pain in the mouth that lasts for more than two weeks
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing (Dysphagia)
  • Persistent earaches in both ears
  • Red patches on the tongue
  • Sores on the tongue or otherwise in the mouth
    Although some mouth sores do not signal an underlying issue, if a sore does not clear up within a week or two, make an appointment with your dentist
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • White patches on the mouth or inside of the cheek

Treating Oral Cancer


Once a qualified dental health professional such as Dr. Wong confirms your diagnosis, he will set you up on a treatment plan. The type of plan will depend on the size and type of cancer, the grade and stage of the cancer, and your overall health. If the cancer has not spread beyond the mouth, surgery alone may do the trick. However, if the cancer is large or has spread into the neck, you may require a combination of treatments including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. If the cancer is large or has spread to your neck, a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be necessary.

Preventing Oral Cancer


Unfortunately, not all forms of mouth-related cancer can be curtailed by lifestyle choices. However, you can take these steps to reduce your risk of contracting cancer of the mouth: 

  • Don’t chew or smoke tobacco. 
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • See your dentist regularly. 
  • Practice good dental hygiene on a daily basis. 
  • Get vaccinated for HPV. 
  • Shield lips from the sun. 

About Dr. Fred Wong of Blue Ocean Dentistry in Glendora, California

Dr. Fred Wong and the staff at Blue Ocean Dentistry use the latest available dental treatments, equipment, and materials – all of which make a marked difference in our patients’ experiences. We are committed to helping our patients achieve optimal dental health. We creatively combine dental science and artistry — which can literally redesign your smile. Since even a subtle change in your smile will help you to project self-confidence and high self-esteem, we love helping you feel good about yourself. We deliver the finest dental care at the most reasonable cost and accept most dental insurance plans as well as CareCredit. For more about the dental treatment plans we offer or to schedule an appointment, call today (626) 852-6999.

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