COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - About 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year.
About 10,000 of those people will die within five years of being diagnosed.
But oral cancer is highly treatable -- if it's caught early. That's why doctors have made April "Oral Cancer Awareness Month" -- to remind people to get screened for cancer.
Screening is an easy and painless process.
Doctor Fred Guerra at Guerra Dental screens every one of his patients every visit.
"It only takes 3-5 minutes. It is visual and tactile. It starts on the outside, feeling the lymphnodes in the neck and jaw and checking the area for any skin abnormalities," Dr. Guerra said. "Then we move inside the mouth and check the oral tisue and tongue."
Dr. Guerra also recommends getting screened with a tool called the Velscope at least once a year.
The Velscope uses a bright blue light to illuminate the tissue and highlight any changes.
"With the Velscope, we can see anything suspicious or concerning even more easily than with our magnifying eyeglass," Dr. Guerra said.
The screening may catch something even earlier than a person could feel it.
But there are signs and symptoms to watch out for, like lesions or sores lasting more than two weeks, loose teeth, trouble swallowing or tasting or bad breath.
Dr. Guerra said everyone should get screened, regardless of whether they smoke or drink.
"Many times, people who have oral cancer don't have the most obvious risk factors, like being a smoker or drinker," Dr. Guerra explained. "Age and sex can also be risk factors."
Sexual history plays a role, as well.
"There is an increase in the number of oral cancers caused by HPV in young people," he said.
The strain HPV 16 is to blame for the cancer. It is transmitted by sexual contact, usually oral sex.
Doctors urge parents to talk to their kids about the risks of oral sex, and make sure they are vaccinated against HPV.