About Oral Cancer

Key points

  • Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx include areas like the tongue, cheeks and gums, floor of the mouth, and the back of the throat.
  • These cancers are primarily diagnosed in older adults, particularly those with a history of tobacco and alcohol use.
  • A portion of these cancers may also be associated with infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).
healthcare worker holds cancer awareness ribbon


In 2020, the latest year for which incidence data are available, in the United States, 45,703 new cases of Oral Cavity and Pharynx cancer were reported, and 10,835 people died of this cancer.1

These cancers were most commonly diagnosed in men, occurring almost three times more often in men than in women. Among men, the highest rates of new cancers were seen in non-Hispanic White people and Non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native people. The death rate was almost three times higher among men than women, with the highest death rates seen in non-Hispanic white men and non-Hispanic black men1.


Symptoms of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx can include:

  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Swelling or unusual bleeding.
  • Difficulty performing daily functions like breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing food.
  • Pain in the mouth or throat that won't go away.

See CDC's Head and Neck Cancers for more information.

Risk factors

Two of the most common risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx are alcohol and tobacco use. Tobacco use includes smoking products such as cigarettes and pipes, and smokeless products like chewing tobacco and betel nut.

Cancers in the back of the tongue and the upper throat are called oropharyngeal cancers. These cancers may be caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. It is unclear if HPV itself causes these cancers, or if other factors (such as tobacco and alcohol use) interact with HPV to cause these cancers. For more information, see CDC's HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer.


To help prevent cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, limit alcohol and do not use tobacco. Speak to your doctor about HPV vaccination, which can prevent new infections of certain types of HPV that can cause oropharyngeal cancers.

Visit your doctor and dentist regularly. Cancers detected at earlier stages have better survival rates. For more information, see CDC's HPV Vaccine.

Treatment and recovery

Treatments for cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx can include surgery and chemotherapy. People treated for cancer with chemotherapy may suffer from oral problems such as painful mouth ulcers, impaired taste, and dry mouth. Dry mouth increases the risk of developing cavities, so it is important to visit your dentist regularly if being treated for cancer.


  1. U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. U.S. Cancer Statistics Data Visualizations Tool, based on 2022 submission data (1999-2020): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dataviz, released in November 2023.