Mississippi State Department of Health

Oral Cancer Prevention


Oral cancer kills about half the people who are diagnosed with it. Because oral cancers are usually not detected until they are advanced, the rate of death or severe damage is high. Yet oral cancer is highly treatable and survivable when detected early with a simple exam.

Oral cancers usually involve the tongue, lip, mouth, soft palate, tonsils, salivary glands, or back of the throat. About half of those diagnosed with oral cancer will not survive more than five years; those who do survive may be permanently disfigured. Fortunately, a dentist or hygienist can see or feel the pre-cancerous tissue changes which might lead to a cancer, and an exam takes only a few minutes.

Everyone over the age of 18 should have an oral cancer screening once a year. Five minutes could save your life.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Signs of possible oral cancer include:


Detecting the signs of possible oral cancer early is important. You can perform your own monthly check for oral cancer in just a few minutes at home. See your dentist or oral health professional if you notice anything unusual.


Risk Factors

Sun Exposure

Increasing sun exposure also increases your chance of developing lip cancer—the most common form of oral cancer.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat or use a sunscreen made for lips whenever you are in the sun for an extended period of time. Have a doctor examine any blisters that remain for more than a few days.

HPV Infection

Human Papillomavirus (HPV is the fastest growing cause of oral cancers in the U.S. It increasingly affects young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals.

Get a regular exam from your doctor or dentist that includes an oral cancer screening. Effective vaccination against HPV is also available.

More about HPV and cancer

Alcohol & Tobacco

Tobacco is the leading cause of oral cancers, but alcohol is a contributor as well, especially for heavy drinkers. Using alcohol and tobacco together increases the risk more than either one alone.

Drink moderately, and quit smoking to reduce your risk of oral cancer and other diseases. Free help is available for those who want to quit.

Quit smoking today


When detected early, the odds of surviving oral cancer are much better.

Early detection strongly affects your survival from oral cancer. Cancers can be detected early with a simple examination for changes in mouth tissue that your dentist can do, quickly and easily. If you are not already regularly screened for oral cancer on your dental visits, schedule a dental appointment each year for an oral cancer screening.

More Information

Links referenced on this page
How to Perform an Oral Cancer Self-Exam    https://www.aaoms.org/docs/media/oral_cancer/oral_cancer_self_exam.pdf
vaccination against HPV    http://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/index.cfm/14,0,71,339,html ok
More about HPV and cancer    http://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/index.cfm/43,0,151,761,html ok
Free help    http://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/index.cfm/43,1774,94,html ok
Quit smoking today    http://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/index.cfm/43,1774,94,html ok
Oral Cancer Fact Sheet    https://www.aaoms.org/docs/media/oral_cancer/2017_oral_cancer_fact_sheet.pdf
Oral Cancer Fact Sheet    https://www.aaoms.org/docs/media/oral_cancer/2018_oral_cancer_fact_sheet_spanish.pdf

Find this page at https://msdh.ms.gov/page/43,17540,151,816.html

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