Talk with the Doc

Becoming familiar with oral cancers in the U.S.

Dr. Jim Surrell, Journal columnist

April has been designated as Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Let us now briefly review oral cancer and its causes, symptoms and treatment programs.

The primary source of the following information is from a review of oral cancers in the U.S. from our United States National Institutes of Health.

Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and cancers of the back of the throat. Therefore, oral cancers include cancers that develop on the tongue, on the tissue lining the mouth and gums, under the tongue, at the base of the tongue, and in the area of the throat at the back of the mouth. Oral cancer accounts for approximately three percent of all cancers that are diagnosed annually in the United States. There are approximately 60,000 new oral cancers in the USA every year. This results in approximately 12,000 oral cancer deaths in the USA every year.

Oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40 and affects more than twice as many men as women. Most cancers in the mouth are related to tobacco use, frequent alcohol consumption, or both.

The NIH further reports that most of the cancers that occur in the throat are caused by the human papilloma virus. It is further reported that the incidence of HPV-positive oral cancers has risen in recent years.

Here is a brief review of the most common causes of oral cancers. Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarette, pipe and cigar, and electronic cigarette smoking, as well as chewing tobacco and snuff puts you at risk for developing oral cancers. Heavy alcohol use also increases the risk. Using both tobacco and alcohol increases the risk even further.

Having an infection with the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus has been linked to oral cancers. Oral cancer risk increases with age and most often in people over the age of 40. Excess sun exposure has also been shown to cause a cancer of the lip. Poor nutrition with a diet low in fruits and vegetables has also been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer.

Following is a brief review of the most common symptoms of these various oral cancers. If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, be sure to see a dentist or a doctor without delay.

≤ A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat.

≤ A white or red patch in your mouth.

≤ Persistent sore throat, a feeling that something is caught in your throat, or hoarseness or voice loss.

≤ A lump in the neck.

≤ Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking.

≤ Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue.

≤ Swelling of your jaw that causes your dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.

≤ Pain or bleeding in the mouth.

≤ Numbness in your tongue or in other areas of your mouth.

≤ Unexplained ear pain.

Oral cancer is often treated with surgery and more advanced oral cancer may also include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Oral cancer that is further along when it is diagnosed may need a combination of the various available treatments. Multiple health care professionals may also be part of the oral cancer treatment team.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of the best-selling SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet book and his new Joke Book, entitled “Laughter Is Good Medicine”. Dr. Jim’s website is sosdietbook.com.


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