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3 Ways to Lower Your Risk for Oral Cancer

By DuPage Medical Group Otolaryngology

More than 48,000 people will be diagnosed with oral or throat cancer this year. While the rate of overall new cases of the disease has remained steady, there has been a recent rise in cases linked to infection from human papilloma virus (HPV). Oral cancer occurs most often on the tongue, tonsils, oropharynx, throat, gums, and floor of the mouth..

Of all the procedures to control oral cancer, none has affected survival as much as early detection. Unlike breast or colon cancer, there is no specific early detection test, which is why it is important for you to be your own health advocate. When found early, oral cancer survival rates are much better than for most other cancers.

Follow these three ways to lower your risk for oral cancer.

  • Prevention
    • If you smoke or chew tobacco, stop.
    • Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
    • Use a lip balm with SPF or sunscreen for your lips every day and avoid excessive sun exposure.
    • Practice good dental hygiene (brush & floss) and schedule routine dental appointments every six months.
    • If you, or your children (male or female), are between the ages of 9-26, consider getting the Gardasil® vaccine that helps prevent against contracting HPV (4 types) which can lead to oral/throat cancer. HPV is a very common virus that infects nearly 20 million people in the US. Most people can clear a HPV infection through their own immune response within a year or two, but in some people HPV persists.  The HPV vaccine also helps protect against cervical cancer, genital warts, vaginal cancer, penile cancer, vulvar cancer and anal cancer. Talk to your primary care physician if you have questions or want to learn more about the HPV vaccine.
  • Screening
    • Make sure your dentist or oral hygienist performs an oral cancer screening at your regular 6 month dental cleanings/check-up. They will check inside your mouth, back of throat, under your tongue as well as your neck and jaw area.
  • Spot It
    • Conduct a self-exam at least once a month
      • Check the back/sides of your tongue, cheeks and lips, tonsils and throat.
      • If you have a spot and certain signs persist for more than two weeks, contact your physician. It is important that you look, as some lesions are not painless, so you cannot rely on pain to indicate you may have a problem.
        • Red or red/white sore or discolored tissue anywhere inside your mouth or throat
        • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
        • Voice alteration
        • Persistent earache
        • Hard lump that doesn’t go away

If you find a sore in your mouth or throat, and it hasn’t gone away after two weeks, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Topics and Subtopics: Cancer & Ear, Nose, & Throat

Learn more about:
Oncology Otolaryngology (ENT)
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