Know the Risks: Prevent Oral Cancer

 Baltimore, MD (April 2, 2013) – Brushing teeth twice a day for two minutes can save a smile. But using those minutes for a painless oral cancer exam during a medical or dental check-up can save a life.

During Oral Cancer Awareness Month, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) encourages people to schedule dentist appointments.

“While the survival rate for oral cancer has somewhat improved over the past 50 years, it is still too low,” said Dr. Harry Goodman, Director of the DHMH Office of Oral Health. “Unfortunately, this is because most people are diagnosed with oral cancer at a late stage.”

Over 650 Marylanders will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Any of the following signs present for more than two weeks can signal the disease:

· A white or red patch in the mouth, tongue or lips
· A sore, irritation, or lump in the mouth
· Hoarseness or feeling that something is caught in the throat
· Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
· Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth
· Swelling of the jaw causing dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
· Swelling in the head or neck region

When these often unnoticed changes are discovered early, oral cancer can be treated successfully and painlessly. But there are further preventative measures that can thwart the power of this cancer, specifically quitting smoking.

While many acknowledge the difficulties in quitting tobacco smoking, there are many programs and opportunities to assist people, including the Maryland Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT NOW). This 24/7 service offers free counseling and nicotine patches to customers, if needed.

“While tobacco use remains a principal cause, other risk factors such as heavy alcohol use and exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) play a role in the disease process,” said Goodman.

Limiting alcoholic drinks and risky sexual behaviors, eating many fruits and vegetables, and using lip balm with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 are all effective ways to reduce the risk of oral cancer and HPV.

For more information on oral cancer, visit the Office of Oral Health website: For more information about the Maryland Tobacco Quitline, call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669), or visit


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