Oral Cancer in Black Men

This article originally ran in BLAC’s April 2011 issue. It has been edited to reflect new information.

frican-American men are at highest risk of developing oral cancer. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., reports that 17 per 100,000 African-American men have oral cancer, and that only 36 percent will survive more than five years after being diagnosed. In contrast, 61 percent of White males live more than five years after diagnosis.

According to the Detroit Oral Cancer Prevention Project, 46 percent of Michigan’s oral cancer fatalities are clustered in Detroit or elsewhere in Wayne County. The Prevention Project also reports that Black men have a higher oral cancer mortality rate than any other gender or racial group.

Fatalities are excessively high in the African-American community because the cancer isn’t detected at an early stage. “Everybody should get tested. If [oral cancer is] caught early, the success rate is about 90 percent,” says Dr. Keith Hudson, a dentist at St. John Providence Health System.

Contributing factors to the development of oral cancer are cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol use. Using both substances together creates an even greater risk of developing the disease. “Genetics and the environment can affect the chances of developing oral cancer, but smoking, alcohol and the human papillomavirus [or HPV-usually transmitted through oral sex] are the main causes,” says Hudson. 


Oral cancer symptoms include a lump or thick patch inside the mouth, on the lip or throat, feelings that something is caught in the throat, numbness of the tongue and difficulty moving the jaw.

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