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DHMH Press Releases > Posts > Prevent Oral Cancer


April 11
Prevent Oral Cancer

Two minutes can save your life. Oral Cancer Awareness Week is April 10-16, 2011

Department of Health & Mental Hygiene FHA News Release

Baltimore, MD (April 11, 2011) – A painless, two-minute oral cancer exam performed by a dental or medical provider during your regular check-up or cleaning can save your life, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). The quick exam looks for unusual red or white skin patches or sores inside the mouth or on the lips and swelling in the head and neck region.

Approximately 550 Marylanders will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Nine out of ten people diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco products, according to Maryland cancer data.

“Quitting tobacco use is the best action anyone can take to prevent oral cancer,” said DHMH Joshua M. Sharfstein, M.D., Secretary for DHMH. “Getting regular check-ups can detect cancer early.”

April 10-16 is Oral Cancer Awareness Week in Maryland. The week is aimed at educating the public about the risk factors, signs and symptoms of the disease.

Ways to reduce your risk of oral cancer include not using tobacco products, limiting alcoholic drinks, using a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15 anytime you are outdoors, and having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

“The survival rate for oral cancer, unlike most other cancers, hasn’t improved much over the past 50 years,” said Dr. Harry Goodman, Director for the DHMH Office of Oral Health. “Unfortunately, this is because most people are diagnosed with oral cancer at a late stage. For smokers, other risk factors like heavy alcohol use, being over age 40, and becoming infected with the human papillomavirus can greatly increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer,” said Goodman.

Oral cancer is most successfully treated when these often-unnoticed skin changes are found early in the course of the disease while still painless.

If you have any of the following signs or symptoms for more than two weeks, see your dental or medical provider immediately.

A white or red patch in the mouth

A sore, irritation, lump or thickening of 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 that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable

Tobacco users who need help with quitting can get free counseling and medication by calling The Maryland Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). This program provides phone-based counseling and up to a four-week supply of nicotine patches or gum to tobacco users who are age 18 and over and meet basic health requirements. This free program is available to all callers regardless of income or how long they have smoked. The nicotine patches and gum are available only while supplies last and are provided on a first come, first served basis.

For more information about oral cancer prevention and the Maryland 1-800-QUIT NOW program, please call your local health department or visit


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