Oral Cancer Awareness

Are you currently screening for oral cancer risk factors and incidence?

The American Cancer Society estimates the incidence of new oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers will exceed 54,000 this year. According to the CDC, human papillomavirus (HPV) is now associated with approximately 9,000 cases of the head and neck (specifically those occurring on the dorsal aspect of the tongue and in and around tonsils). 

Knowing the top risk factors, providing oral cancer examinations and educating parents on the benefits of the HPV vaccine can be vital in early detection and prevention.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Persistent sore throat
  • A lump or thickening in the oral soft tissues
  • Hoarseness
  • A change in voice
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, moving jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable

Signs and symptoms that persist for two weeks or more merit further investigation, such as biopsy or referral.

To find additional resources and review the ADA policy on early detection, please visit ADA oral cancer resources.

Top 5 Risks for Oral Cancer

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
    • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US. People who are diagnosed with HPV-related head and neck cancer tend to be younger and nonsmokers. Lesions can develop in difficult-to-detect areas such as the back of tongue and tonsils.
  • Tobacco Use
    • Any type of tobacco use; smokeless tobacco (“chew”), hookah, pipe and cigarette smoking puts you at a higher risk for oral cancer.
    • Alcohol Use
      • Heavy drinking, an average of 2 drinks a day or more for men and one drink a day for women, increase your risk of developing oral cancer.
    • Gender
      • Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer. Heavy drinking and tobacco use contribute to risk.
    • Age
      • Most people diagnosed with cancer are 55 and older, however, HPV related oral cancers are most often diagnosed in younger people.



    The ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention hosted a webinar series, Preventing HPV Cancers in Action, as part of Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

    Part 1, The Critical Role of the Dentist, on March 23:
    Dentists play a critical role in the detection of oral cancers and the education of their patients on the importance of HPV vaccination. Gary Heyamoto, D.D.S., president of the Academy of General Dentistry Foundation, will discuss the importance of performing a consistent and thorough clinical oral exam, as well as how to discuss HPV vaccination with patients, describe anterior mouth and posterior mouth from a medical perspective, and participate as an office in fighting HPV oral cancers through awareness and promotion of the HPV vaccine.

    View Recorded Webinar

    Part 2, Dentists as Vaccinators, on April 4:
    The COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness of dentists as vaccinators — including of the HPV vaccine. Rosie Wagner, D.D.S., founder of Smiles By Rosie Family Dentistry, and Isaac Zeckel, D.D.S., chief dental director of HealthLinc, will discuss the benefits of dentists as immunizers, steps to becoming a dentist immunizer, medicolegal considerations, and ways to increase access to care by providing a new vaccination setting, with innovative vaccination approaches that use on-site interdisciplinary teams.

    View Recorded Webinar