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Did You Know April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month?

Know the Risks and Signs of Oral Cancer

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, over 48,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Even worse, it will cause nearly 10,000 deaths; a rate that is higher than that of cervical, testicular, and thyroid cancers and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Unfortunately, while oral cancer can be easier to discover and diagnose than other cancers, it often isn’t. Many times it is discovered late in development, often after it has metastasized to another part of the body. The problem is that it may not cause the pain and symptoms that people are generally aware of for other types of cancer. There is also a high rate of developing a second cancer after the initial diagnosis and treatment, nearly 20-times the risk.

It will likely come as no surprise that tobacco use, both from cigarettes and chewing or spit tobacco, remains one of the highest risk factors in the development of oral cancer, with alcohol consumption exacerbating that risk. While age was typically a major factor, and still is part of the screening process, we are now seeing occurrences in younger ages. Peer reviewed research suggests this is due to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), #16, which is shown to be sexually transmitted. This is the same overall virus that is the cause of the majority of cervical cancers. This may also explain why the ratio of occurrence of oral cancer in women has drastically increased in recent years, from 6:1 to 2:1. Other factors that contribute to risk include: exposure to ultra-violet light, a weakened immune system, and poor nutrition.

How often do you bite the inside of your mouth? Or your tongue? Because your mouth is subject to so many normal tissue changes and trauma, you may notice something, but not necessarily worry about it. Conversely, you may worry about something that turns out to be nothing. If you notice the appearance of any red or white patches, sores, lumps, or other tissue changes, keep a note of them. If they do not heal within 14 days, have a professional (either your dentist or physician) take a look.

With additional symptoms that replicate those in other illnesses, how can you catch any warning signs as early as possible? Pay attention to your mouth, looking in the mirror monthly and noting any changes. Most importantly, make sure you make and keep your regularly scheduled dental appointments. Dr. Finlay & Associates performs routine oral cancer screening, review your medical history and perform a blood pressure test during the exams and is trained to see or feel the early stages of the cancer.

For more information on oral and pharyngeal cancer, visit the American Cancer Society at or the Oral Cancer Foundation at

Concerned with changes in your mouth? Contact Scott Finlay and Associates, DDS at 443-276-4094 to make an appointment for a screening.