Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

April 7-14th is Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness week and we are so grateful to be able to share information about these cancers to bring awareness about the causes and dangers of cancer. Cancer is defined as a disease caused by uncontrollable division of abnormal cells in a part of the body - oral, head and neck cancers are unfortunately quite common. Worldwide, over 550,000 cases of oral, head or neck cancer are diagnosed each year, and 110,000 of those cases are in the United States alone (American Academy of Otolaryngology). As your dental team, we are very passionate about this topic and want to use this blog post to educate everyone on these types of cancers, and how to stay healthy to try and avoid them.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat. Oral cancer most often is identified by a sore or growth in the mouth that does not go away. It can also appear as reddish or whitish areas in the mouth, lumps, bumps, or raised surfaces in the mouth, or patchy, bumpy areas in the mouth. Other symptoms can include difficulty swallowing, numbness, bleeding, loose teeth or soreness/tenderness in the mouth. If you notice any of these symptoms or abnormalities in your mouth, contact your dentist and schedule an appointment. 

One of the biggest causes of oral cancer is tobacco. Smoking, including cigars, cigarettes, vape pens, or smokeless tobacco, including dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco dramatically raises your chances of getting oral cancer. Genetics also play a role in oral cancer, and if you have a family history of oral cancer you are at higher risk. Consuming alcohol and overexposure to the sun also increase your risk of getting oral cancer or melanoma of the lips.

Head and Neck Cancer

Cancers of the head and neck often include the pharynx and larynx - or throat and voice box, including the vocal cords and epiglottis, the sinuses and nasal cavity, and the salivary glands. Symptoms of the various types of head and neck cancers include trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing, pain of the head or neck that does not go away, ear pain or headaches, swelling under the chin or jawbone, lumps or bumps in your throat, or numbness and pain in various parts of your head and neck.

Head and neck cancer makes up approximately 6% of all cancers in the United States and is more common in people over the age of 50. Tobacco use is one of the main preventable causes of these types of cancer. Smoking (cigarettes, cigars and vape pens) and using smokeless tobacco (dip, snuff and chewing tobacco), as well as over-consuming alcohol can increase your risk of these types of cancer.


Oral, head and neck cancers are serious diseases and steps should be taken to protect yourself as much as possible from these forms of cancer. The most preventable cause of these various cancers is smoking. Approximately 200,000 people die each year from smoking related illnesses (American Academy of Otolaryngology) - this is a dangerous habit that should be avoided at all costs. Common misconceptions are that smokeless tobacco and vape pens are safer than smoking cigarettes, but this is false - these habits increase your risk of getting oral, head and neck cancers just as much as smoking cigarettes does. Additionally, in the United States, 1 person is diagnosed with a new case of oral, head and neck cancer every 10 minutes, and someone dies of these kids of cancer every 45 minutes (American Academy of Otolaryngology). According to this data, these cancers should not be taken lightly.

Aside from not using tobacco products, make sure that you are not consuming alcohol in excess as this has been found to have a link with these types of cancer. Additionally, be sure to always wear sunscreen and a chapstick with SPF in it - you can get melanoma on your lips if you are not careful about protecting them from the sun. Another great way to ensure you can protect yourself from oral, head and neck cancer is to be checked regularly. At your dentist appointments your doctor will give you a head and neck examination in order to look out for these symptoms - they will feel around your head, throat and neck and look around your mouth and throat to determine if there are any irregularities or concerning areas. In addition to these physical examinations, our office provides the opportunity to get an oral cancer screening. We recommend getting an oral cancer screening once a year, however people who heavily use tobacco products can opt for a screening more than once a year. At Dental BLU we use Identafi - a painless light that we shine around the patients mouth that uses various wavelengths to show the hygienist any suspicious areas in the mouth. Ask about Identafi at your next hygiene visit to make sure you are not at risk for having oral cancer.

We are very passionate about the topic of oral, head, and neck cancers and hope that after reading this article, you are too. Cancer is a dangerous disease and unfortunately 66% of the time oral, head and neck cancers are found in stage 3 or 4 meaning that they are more serious and have spread to other areas in the body (American Academy of Otolaryngology). In order to learn more about these diseases and their risks, schedule an appointment with your dentist or visit https://www.entnet.org/OHANCAW to read articles about oral, head and neck cancer.

During Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week please use this opportunity to educate yourself and your family and friends about the dangers associated with these types of cancer, and use this week as motivation to live a healthier lifestyle to try and avoid these cancers.

Dental BLU