Division of Oral Health Fact Sheet

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer will be found in an estimated 30,000 Americans this year and will cause close to 8,000 deaths. Only half of those who develop the disease will live more than five years.

Who is at risk for developing oral cancer?

People who use tobacco and excessive alcohol increase their risk of oral cancer. People who spend a great deal of time in the sun also may have a higher risk for lip cancer.

More than 90 percent of all oral cancers are found in people 45 years of age and older, but oral cancer can happen at any age. Men develop oral cancer twice as often as women, and it occurs more often in African Americans than in whites.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

The number of deaths from oral cancer can be reduced if the cancer is found and treated early. Changes in your mouth that may signal the start of oral cancer often can be seen and felt easily. A person can find these changes by doing a monthly exam of his or her mouth. Look for these symptoms, which are some of the warning signs of oral cancer:

  • A sore in your mouth that bleeds easily and does not heal
  • A lump or thick spot in your cheek that can be felt with your tongue
  • A white or red patch on your gums, tongue, or anywhere in your mouth
  • Soreness or a feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing your food
  • Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of your tongue or other parts of your mouth
  • Swelling of your upper or lower jaw that causes your dentures to fit poorly or hurt your mouth

These are not sure signs of cancer. They also can be caused by many other conditions. It is important to see a dentist or physician if any of these problems lasts more than two weeks. Pain is usually not a sign of oral cancer. Annual visits to a dentist’s office are recommended for a professional oral cancer examination.

For more information, contact

Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Oral Health
535 W. Jefferson St., Springfield, IL 62761
217-785-4899, TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466

NOTE: This fact sheet was derived from one previously published by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

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Oral Health Home

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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