Office of Cancer Control and Prevention

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Video Transcript

Improving Your Oral Cancer Awareness

We want to thank you for coming to this oral cancer screening today. 

While you are waiting for your screening, we wish to provide you with a brief education on oral cancer.

You might ask, “What is oral cancer?”

Well, oral cancer may be seen as an abnormal growth in the mouth or throat.

It may appear as a white or red sore in the mouth that does not go away within a few weeks.

Oral cancer can be found in various locations in the mouth, throat and on the tongue or lip.

Here are few examples of what oral cancer might look like:

In picture #1, the arrow is pointing to a red patch, which is an early sign of oral cancer.

Pictures 2 & 3 show more advanced stages of oral cancer on the gums and tongue.

I would like to share a few of the risk behaviors for oral cancer.

The biggest risk factor is smoking.  Smoking cigarettes, pipes, and/or cigars is dangerous and can lead to oral cancer.  Chewing tobacco may also lead to oral cancer.

In addition, drinking four or more alcoholic drinks per day increases your risk of oral cancer.

So, if you smoke and drink alcohol, your risk of  getting oral cancer is 15 times greater than someone who does not smoke or drink.

There are other behaviors that also increase the risk of getting oral cancer. 

Human papilloma virus, or HPV is a virus commonly transmitted through sexual behavior.   While sexual behavior does not increase your risk for oral cancer, becoming infected with HPV does.

About 36% of those who have oral cancer also have HPV.  HPV is also responsible for many cervical cancer cases.

Other risk behaviors for oral cancer include excessive exposure to radiation, such as getting too much sun, which can contribute to some lip cancers.  Eating a poor diet where one does not get enough fruits and vegetables also increases your risk of developing oral cancer. 

I would like to share with you the seven major signs of oral cancer.  Beginning with a painless red or white patch inside the mouth that doesn’t go away, a mouth or lip sore that does not heal within a few weeks, difficulty swallowing, a change in the way dentures fit, bleeding from the mouth, jaw or ear pain, and numbness of the gums or lips.

It is important to understand that even though you may have some of these symptoms, it does not mean that you have oral cancer. 

However, if you do have any of these signs or symptoms, you should be examined by your dentist or physician as soon as possible.

You may ask, “What happens during an oral cancer screening?”   “Is it painful?”

The screening only takes a few minutes and is completely painless.  During the screen, the dentist examines the roof of your mouth, your throat, the insides of your cheeks and lips, and the top, bottom, and sides of your tongue.

The dentist will be looking for any signs of cancer, which can include red or white patches that have not healed in a few weeks.

Remember, getting regular dental checkups every six months can detect oral cancer early.

Many people get oral cancer.  About 34,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.

Like with any cancer, early detection is key.  For those who have oral cancer that is found early, 90% will be alive 5 years later.

But, for those who have their oral cancer diagnosed later, only 35% will be alive after 5 years.

So please make sure oral cancer screening is something you have done every six months.  It could save your life!