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Cancer Questions?

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene




Oral cancer is cancer anywhere inside the mouth. It is a malignant (cancerous) growth that affects any part of the oral cavity, including the lips, upper or lower jaw, tongue, gums, cheeks, and throat. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, oral cancer causes over 8,000 deaths per year.


The following are risk factors for oral cancer:

  • Tobacco users
  • Age - likelihood of developing oral cancer increases with age, especially after 35
  • Heavy alcohol users
  • Male (twice more common in men than women)
  • Exposure to sun
  • Diet deficient in minerals and vitamins


These are common symptoms of oral cancer:

  • A sore or blister in the mouth or on the lip that won't heal
  • White and red patches in the mouth or lips
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Earaches
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • A lump in your neck

Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. Keep in mind that these symptoms may be that of other illnesses, so an exam by a physician is essential.





Oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. Anyone with the above symptoms should see a doctor or dentist so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

The oral cancer screening exam will be conducted by your dentist as a routine part of a comprehensive dental examination. He or she will feel for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. When examining your mouth, your dentist will look for any sores or discolored tissue, as well as check for or ask you about the signs and symptoms mentioned above. Your dentist might perform an oral brush biopsy if he or she sees tissue in your mouth that looks suspicious. This test is painless and involves taking a small sample of the tissue and analyzing it for abnormal cells. Alternatively, if the tissue looks even more suspicious, your dentist might recommend a biopsy. This procedure usually requires local anesthesia and might be performed by your dentist or an oral surgeon. These tests are necessary to detect oral cancer early, before it has had a chance to progress and spread.

The American Cancer Society recommends that your primary health care providers and dentists examine the mouth and throat as part your annual regular checkup. For those who are at a higher risk, to take an active role in the early detection of this cancer by doing monthly self-examinations by using a mirror to check for any of the signs and symptoms of cancer in the mouth and throat.

For the next oral cancer screening event or for more information, please call 240.777.1222