Jun 18, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Lori Bonham


The sports community was saddened to learn of the death of baseball’s Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who passed away this week after a battle with oral cancer. Gwynn used tobacco throughout his career – a habit, Gwynn told ESPN in 2010, that probably gave him cancer. 

“Every year more than 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancer,” said Luke Buchmann, MD, head and neck cancer specialist with University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Tobacco and alcohol are the main causes of oral cancer, but other causes include diet and family history. Another factor is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of oral cancers caused by HPV is increasing.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The danger of oral cancer is that in the early stages, it may go unnoticed. The following are the most common symptoms. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • A lip or mouth sore that does not heal
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of mouth
  • A lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat
  • Unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth area
  • Swelling of the jaw or neck
  • Pain in the ear
  • Change in voice
  • A chronic sore throat
  • Feeling as if something is caught in the throat
  • Pain or difficulty in swallowing or chewing
  • Cough

It is important to detect cancers as early as possible because treatment works best before the disease spreads. You can take an active role in the early detection of these cancers by performing monthly self-examinations and seeing a specialist when you have any of the symptoms. Routine dental exams can also help, since oral health professionals are trained to look for signs of oral cancer during dental screenings.

Treatments for oral cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.


Lori Bonham

Lori Bonham is a marketing manager at University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter: @bonhaml

oral cancer

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