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Oral cancer is any abnormal growth and spread of cells occurring in the mouth cavity including the:
- Inside of the lips and cheeks;
- Floor of the mouth;
- Salivary gland;
- Back of the throat;
- Roof of the mouth.
- In Canada, oral cancer is the 13th most common cancer (of the 23 reported cancers).
- In 2009, the number of new cases and death due to oral cancer is predicted to be almost three times higher than that of cervical cancer and almost double the rates of liver cancer. Oral cancers are also predicted to have higher numbers of new cases and deaths in 2009 than stomach, brain and ovary cancers.
- The five year survival rate for oral cancer is 63 percent compared to the survival rates of cervical cancer (75 percent), melanoma cancers (89 percent), and prostate cancer (95 percent).
- In 2009, it is estimated that there will be 3,400 new cases of oral cancer and that 1,150 people will die from oral cancer. Men will account for over half of these new cases.
For more information, visit the Canadian Cancer Society Web site.
There are many risk factors associated with developing oral cancer:
- People over the age of 40 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur at any age, but the incidence increases sharply over 40. Individuals that are over the age of 60 have the highest incidence of oral cancer.
- Smoking or using tobacco products increases the risk, especially if combined with high alcohol consumption. This includes smokeless tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, chewing betel quid, paan, areca nut and cigarettes.
- High consumption of alcohol, especially if combined with smoking, increases the risk of developing oral cancer. The amount of alcohol consumed and the duration of use increases the risk for oral cancers.
- There is increasingly more research emerging that is connecting Human Papillomavaius infection, especially HPV-16, with oral cancers.
- Men are more susceptible than women to developing oral cancer. In the past, men had a six to one ratio of incidence of oral cancer than women. However; this ratio is narrowing and is now closer to a two to one ratio.
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables. A diet that includes fruit and vegetables has a protective factor and is believed to reduce the risk for oral cancers.
- Sun exposure
- People who are in the sun a lot have an increased risk of developing lip cancer.
Prevention is the Key
Oral cancer new cases and deaths are relatively low in number compared to prostate, breast and colorectal cancer, but are almost 3 times higher than for cervicial cancer and almost double than liver cancer.
- See a dental professional for a regular check up and a cleaning.
- Quit smoking and using tobacco products. Quitting (or reducing) your tobacco use lowers your risk of developing oral cancer.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Quitting (or reducing) your alcohol use lowers your risk of developing oral cancer.
- If you are sexually active, the use of a condom will reduce your risk of HPV infection.
- When you are outside and exposed to the sun, use lip balm with UV protection.
- Eat a healthy diet according to Canada's Food Guide including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Brush and floss your teeth daily. Learn more about Brushing and Flossing.
Oral cancer can be successfully treated if caught at an early stage. If not treated early, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body and it then becomes more difficult to treat.
To detect oral cancer in its early stage, have regular oral cancer screening done by a dental and/or health professional.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
- Sores in the mouth that do not heal within two weeks
- Dark red or white patches in the mouth
- Lumps located on the lips, tongue or neck
- Bleeding in the mouth
- Sore throat and difficulty with swallowing
See a dental and/ or a health professional immediately if you notice any of the above signs or symptoms.
Oral Cancer Self-Assessment Quiz
Early detection of oral cancer can significantly increase the success of treatment and reduce the likelihood that the cancer would spread to other parts of the body.
This test is intended to help you assess your personal risk for developing oral cancer. Knowing that you are at increased risk can help you develop a plan to make healthier choices. There are many factors that can increase a person's risk of developing oral cancer:
Indicate 'yes' or 'no' to each of the following questions.
Are you over the age of 40?
- Are you Male?
- Do you have Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
- Are you sexually active and not regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI's)?
- Do you use tobacco products?
- Do you drink a lot of alcohol and have done so consistently for a long period of time?
- Are your lips exposed to the sun on a regular basis?
- Is your diet low in fruits and vegetables?
The more risk factors you have replied "yes" to in the questionnaire, the higher your risk of developing oral cancer.
You should take a few moments to look in your mouth for the signs and symptomsthat are associated with oral cancer. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, please speak to a dental or health care provider as soon as you are able. Be sure to ask for an oral cancer screening at a dental or medical clinic.
Common Myths about Oral Cancer
- Only people who smoke or who drink a lot of alcohol or both are at risk of developing oral cancer.
Not exactly true. There is a higher risk for people who smoke and or drink a lot of alcohol (and this risk is even higher if you do both), but there is about 25 percent of oral cancers occurs in people who don't smoke or drink alcohol.
- Only older adults should get screened for oral cancer.
Oral cancer can develop at any age, but the incidence rises steeply at age 40 and peaks at 60 years of age.
- The incidence of oral cancer is much lower than other cancers.
It is true that oral cancer new cases and deaths are relatively low in number compared to prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer, but are almost three times higher than for cervical cancer and almost double than liver cancer.