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Are You At Risk for Oral Cancer? What African American Men Need to Know

Are African American men at risk for oral cancer?

photo of an African American maleYes, African American men are one of the groups at highest risk for oral cancer—but many don't know it.

Most cases of oral cancer are linked to cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol use, or the use of both tobacco and alcohol together. In fact, using tobacco plus alcohol poses a much greater risk than using either substance alone.

Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) may also play a part in oral cancer.

It's not just smokeless tobacco ("dip" and "chew"). Using tobacco of any kind, including cigarettes, puts you at risk for oral cancer.

The risk of oral cancer increases with age. Most oral cancers occur after age 40.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

photo of an African American malePossible Signs & Symptoms

  • A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat
  • A white or red patch in your mouth
  • A feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth
  • Swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss

Be on the lookout for any changes in your mouth, especially if you smoke or drink.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

photo of an African American maleSee a doctor or dentist if any symptoms last more than 2 weeks.

Most often, symptoms (like those listed in the previous section) do not mean cancer. An infection or another problem can cause the same symptoms. But it's important to get them checked out—because if you do have cancer, it can be treated more successfully if it's caught early.

Ask for an oral cancer exam. It's quick, painless, and it could save your life.

About Oral Cancer

The term oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and the pharynx (FAIR-inks), part of the throat. 

The Oral Cancer Exam

An oral cancer examination can detect early signs of cancer. The exam is painless—and takes only a few minutes.

During the exam, your doctor or dentist will check your face, neck, lips, entire mouth, and the back of your throat for possible signs of cancer.

photo of an African American male"Are you at risk for oral cancer? What African American men need to know" is produced and distributed by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is one of the world's foremost medical research centers and the federal focal point for medical research in the United States.


See other items in the "Oral Cancer: What African American Men Need to Know" campaign

Print Materials:

Oral Cancer:  Causes and Symptoms & The Oral Cancer Exam
Fact Sheet: Oral Cancer Causes and Symptoms & The Oral Cancer Exam
This fact sheet contains additional information about oral cancer plus an extensive list of references to the medical literature. 

The Oral Cancer Exam
Oral Cancer Exam Card
A companion to the brochure, this card describes the steps of an oral cancer examination.

Oral Cancer: What African American Men Need to Know (small poster)
Poster (8.5" x 11")
This 8.5x11 poster is designed to raise African American men's awareness of their risk for oral cancer and the importance of early detection.


Video: Are You at Risk for Oral Cancer? What African American Men Need to Know (3:10)

Audio: Oral Cancer Public Service Announcements

Widgets: African American Men and Oral Cancer


This information is not copyrighted. Print and make as many photocopies as you need.

April 2011

This page last updated: May 12, 2011