“I am a disease. More than 100 people in the United States alone are diagnosed with me each day. Every hour of every day, I take the life of one more person. In fact, my death rate is greater than the more commonly-known forms of me. What am I?”

You might’ve guessed “cancer” and, if so, you’d be right. Specifically, though, these are the sad statistics for oral cancer. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that the high death rate is not a result of this cancer being hard to diagnose. Instead, in many cases, it’s simply found too late.

Since April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, it’s only fitting that you brush up on your knowledge of this vicious disease so that you can do your best to avoid becoming one of its countless victims.

About Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can occur in any part of the mouth including the lips, gums, inside of the cheeks, or the floor or roof of the mouth. It is part of a larger category of cancers specific to the head and neck.

Early on, when cancerous cells are just beginning to develop, a person may not notice anything alarming. As the disease progresses, though, an array of symptoms start to present themselves:

  • Numbness or tenderness in any area of the face, mouth or neck
  • Patches of white, red or speckled (white and red) in the mouth
  • A bleeding sore or one that doesn’t heal within two weeks
  • Pain while chewing or swallowing (or difficulty)
  • Thickening of the lining of the mouth
  • Frequent sore throats or hoarseness
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing
  • Lumps or bumps in the mouth
  • A sore or stiff jaw
  • Pain in the tongue
  • Loose teeth

As you can imagine, these symptoms do a fair bit of damage to the mouth and can completely flip a person’s life on its head. Now the million dollar question: Are you at risk of having this happen to you?

Risk Factors For Oral Cancer

What might indicate that you’re at risk? As you probably guessed, smoking and any sort of tobacco use play a significant role in the development of the dreaded oral “C” just as they do in the development of other cancers inducing that of the lungs.

However, another factor is quickly rendering hundreds of young, nonsmokers defenselessagainst this disease. What is it? The HPV virus. Therefore, it’s important to do everything in your power to avoid exposure to this virus.

Are there other risk factors? Yes. They include excessive alcohol consumption, too much sun exposure to lips, a weak immune system, and a family history of cancer. Of course, you should pay extra attention to your oral health if you have one or more of the risk factors.

Yet, even if you don’t necessarily “fit the bill” for oral cancer, you may still develop it. Therefore, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, get a medical evaluation right away. And don’t forget to do your part to raise awareness , especially during the remainder of April. You just might save a life!