reviewed 9/18/2018

Oral cancer: True or false?

About 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancers—cancers of the mouth and throat—each year. You might already know that quitting tobacco use is the most powerful way to reduce your risk. But there are other important things to learn about oral cancer protection. Take this short quiz to learn about other common risk factors—and how to spot the possible warning signs.

True or false: Men and women are at equal risk for oral cancer.

False. Oral cancer is roughly twice as common in men as in women. It can affect both younger and older adults. But the risk for everyone increases with age: Most of the time, oral cancer occurs in people over age 40.

True or false: The HPV shot can help prevent oral cancer.

True. Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, raises the risk for some types of oral cancers. Getting the HPV shot can help you avoid HPV infection, which could lower oral cancer risk.

True or false: Alcohol use does not affect your oral cancer risk.

False. Alcohol use is an important risk factor for oral cancer. In fact, the risk of oral cancers is five to six times higher in those who consume five or more drinks per day compared to those who don't drink at all. 

True or false: Twice-yearly dental exams play an important role in oral cancer prevention.

True. Your dentist or hygienist can perform an oral cancer screening as a part of your regular dental exam. During the screening, he or she will check your face, mouth, lips and neck for possible cancer signs. The screenings are quick and painless—but they can detect oral cancer early, so you can get treated sooner.

True or false: A mouth sore that bleeds easily and doesn't heal is the most common sign of oral cancer.

True. Mouth sores are common signs of oral cancer. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Mouth pain.
  • A lump in the cheek.
  • A white or red patch in your mouth.
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat.
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue.

If any of these last for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.

It's important to know the warning signs of oral cancer. You can learn more in the oral cancer topic center.

Visit the topic center

Sources: Academy of General Dentistry; American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute; National Institutes of Health

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