Oral cancer

Oral cancers can affect any part of the mouth, but is most commonly found in the tongue, floor of the mouth, lips and cheeks.  

Smoking is a major cause of cancer affecting the mouth and the throat. The use of tobacco in any form increases the risk of oral cancers. The risk of developing cancer increases with the length of time a person has smoked and the amount they have smoked.  

Oral health professionals recommend that people look out for red and white patches in their mouths and sores and ulcers that do not heal within two weeks. In most cases, spots in the mouth will be harmless, but it is important not to delay a diagnosis.

What should I look for?

If you have any of these symptoms, see your oral health professional as soon as possible.

What can I do to reduce the risk?

Quit smoking:

More than 75% of oral cancers in Australia occur in people who smoke. The more often and the heavier you smoke, the higher your chances of developing oral cancer.

By quitting, a smoker will halve their risk of developing oral cancer within five years.

If you need help to quit, call the Quitline on 137 848 (13 QUIT). 


Reduce alcohol intake:

Heavy drinking (more than four standard drinks on one occasion) increases your risk of oral cancer, and this is especially true when drinking is combined with smoking.

Never underestimate how much you drink (one standard drink is not necessarily one glass of wine, beer or spirits) and remember to have regular alcohol-free days.


Be sun smart:

Extended sun exposure, particularly without protection such as sunscreen, can increase your risk of skin cancer of the lips. Avoid sunburn by protecting your skin with sunscreen, using lip balm with a Skin Protection Factor (SPF30+) and wearing a hat when outdoors.

Learn more about being sun smart and managing UV exposure External website icon


Eat well:

If your diet is low in fresh vegetables, or includes no vegetables at all, you are at increased risk of developing oral cancer. Eating at least eight serves of vegetables per week, compared to three or less, decreases your risk of mouth cancer by 50%.

Eating well is a simple way to improve your general health, and reduce your risk of oral cancer.

Food and drink for healthy teeth External website icon


Keep your mouth healthy:

Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily can help prevent a number of oral health conditions, including oral cancers.

Check your mouth regularly for unusual sores.

Drink plenty of fluoridated tap water and see a dental professional regularly to check your whole mouth, not just your teeth.

Find a community dental clinic near you External website icon


For more information about oral cancers, their symptoms and how to prevent them, visit the Cancer Council Victoria’s website External website icon  


Last updated: 2015-03-26