Ninety percent of oral cancers are squamous cell cancers of the mucosa. If a red or white patch appears and does not resolve, suspect leukoplakia (precancer) or cancer and pursue biopsy of the lesion. The development of a mass or ulcer is a late sign with poorer prognosis.


  • 4% of all cancers in the US
  • 49,000 cases diagnosed annually; 9500 deaths
  • Highest mortality in black males


  • Alcohol and tobacco
    • Historically responsible for 75% of oral cancers
    • Greater risk for those who smoke pipes or cigars than cigarettes
  • Human Papilloma Virus, HPV 16
    • Accounts for the rising incidence or oral cancers, particularly the posterior pharynx, tonsils and the base of the tongue
    • Especially in younger individuals, 40-64
    • HPV vaccine may decrease rates of oral HPV infection
  • Sunlight (lip cancer)
  • Betel nuts


  • Red or white patches persisting beyond two weeks
  • Ulcers that are non-healing or bleed easily
  • Masses

Examples of Oral Cancer

John McDowell, DDS
John McDowell, DDS
Ellen Eisenberg, DMD
Ellen Eisenberg, DMD


HPV Vaccination Linked to Decreased Oral HPV Infections, National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute, June 5, 2017, Accessed on 1/23/2018

Kalavrezos N, Scully C. Mouth cancers for clinicians Part 6: Potentially malignant disorders. Dent Update. 2015;42(9):866-8, 871-4, 877.

Rhodus NL, Kerr AR, Patel K. Oral cancer: leukoplakia, premalignancy, and squamous cell carcinoma.  Dent Clin North Am. 2014;58(2):315-40.

Cancer stat facts, National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute, Accessed on 1/23/2018