Did you know that April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month? You probably haven't spent a lot of time thinking about oral cancer, but this is a good time of year to give it some thought. Oral cancer is a potentially deadly disease, but with some knowledge about the disease and the help of your dentist, you have a good chance of survival. Take a look at some important facts that you should know about oral cancer.

Oral Cancer Has a High Death Rate

Oral cancer causes more than 9,750 deaths a year. It has a five-year survival rate of only about 57%. This is a higher death rate than some of the other common cancers that you hear about regularly, like Hodgkin's lymphoma or thyroid cancer.

Why is the death rate for oral cancer so high? It's not because of the difficulty of treating the cancer or the strength of the disease. Instead, it's because the early warning signs of oral cancer are usually painless, and patients often don't realize that anything is wrong until it's too late. Regular oral cancer screenings, which can be done by your dentist during a regular checkup, can make a big difference in your chances of surviving oral cancer. If the disease is detected before it has a chance to spread, your chances of survival increase dramatically.

You Can Decrease Your Risk of Oral Cancer

Anyone can develop oral cancer, but there are things that put you at greater risk of developing the disease. And if you recognize some of the risk factors of oral cancer in your own life, there are things that you can do to decrease your risk.

Like lung cancer, many cases of oral cancer are linked to tobacco use. If you smoke, chew tobacco, or use other tobacco products, you're putting yourself at greater risk of developing oral cancer. Your doctor or dentist can direct you to smoking cessation resources that can help you kick the habit and decrease your risk. Frequent alcohol use and excessive exposure to the sun on your face are also risk factors for oral cancer that you can take steps to minimize.

You Can Do a Self-Exam

If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of oral cancer early. Performing routine self-examinations can help ensure that you get to a medical professional early if you do have signs of oral cancer.

To give yourself an oral cancer screening, start by looking in the mirror and sticking out your tongue. Examine it for sores, lumps, masses, or changes in color or texture. Be sure to lift your tongue and look at the underside as well as the top and sides. Then, tilt your head back and examine the roof of your mouth for discolorations or protrusions. Check your cheeks, lips, and neck for red or white patches, lumps and bumps, or unexplained swelling. Any sores, swelling, masses, or discolorations in these areas are good reasons to see a medical professional right away.

Getting regular dental checkups, reducing your risk factors, and giving yourself self-exams are all ways that you can beat oral cancer. Why not recognize Oral Cancer Awareness Month by making an appointment with your dentist in April for an oral cancer screening? You'll be glad that you did.