April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April 28, 2023

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness for oral and oropharyngeal cancer prevention and treatment, as well as including oral cancer screenings in routine dental exams.

It is estimated that in 2023, over 54,000 people in the U.S. will receive an oral cancer or oropharyngeal cancer diagnosis, and over 11,580 people will die from them.

The most common locations for oral cancer and oropharyngeal cancer are the tongue, the tonsils and oropharynx, the gums, and the floor and other parts of the mouth. They can also occur in the lips, salivary glands, and other locations.

There are several risk factors for developing oral cancer, including:

  • Using tobacco, including smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, and chewing tobacco
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Being older, as most oral cancers happen after age 40 and the average at diagnosis is 64
  • Being assigned male at birth; in general, the lifetime risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer is about 1 in 60 for men and 1 in 141 for women
  • Ultraviolet light exposure may increase the risk of cancer developing on the lips

Another risk factor is having human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer has risen over the past two decades. The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce the risk of HPV-related cancers, and is recommended at ages 11-12, but can be given starting at age nine. According to the CDC, the HPV vaccine could prevent more than 90% of HPV-attributable cancers.