Oral Cancer: Risks & symptoms

Oral Cancer:  Risks & symptoms

More than 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. The five-year survival rate is about 64%.

Like other forms of cancer, health problems related to treatment are reduced when cancer is diagnosed and treated in early stages.

An oral cancer screening is performed during your dental visit. Screening includes visual inspection and palpation jaw and neck. Regular dental visits ensure that an oral cancer screening is performed regularly and that any abnormalities are caught earlier on.

Know the risks

There are a number of factors that have been identified as risk factors. Smoking and excessive alcoholism are among the most important.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has also been identified as a risk factor. HPV is sexually transmitted. HPV-positive cancers develop in areas that are often difficult to detect.

If you are undergoing any type of cancer treatment, it can also affect your oral cavity. The chance of developing new cavities and gum disease increases during cancer treatments as a result of dry mouth and other side effects of chemo and radiation therapy. It is also important to visit your dentist before beginning any type of cancer treatments. The chance of infection and complication during cancer treatment are higher if a patient already has an existing dental condition.


It is important to see your dentist if you experience any of the following symptoms that last longer than two weeks and do not resolve on their own:

  • A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 95 percent of oral cancers. The lateral border of the tongue, lower lip, soft palate and gingiva are among the most common places for them. Overall, the five-year survival rate is just 50 percent with squamous cell carcinoma.

To schedule a screening, contact your dentist or Marshall Dentistry & Oral Surgery at 304-691-1247.


Malav Shah, DDS

Dr. Shah is an assistant professor in the department of dentistry, oral & maxillofacial surgery at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and a general dentist with Marshall Dentistry & Oral Surgery. He earned his dentistry degree from the West Virginia University School of Dentistry.

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