Oncologist Katharine Price, M.D., answers common questions about mouth cancer, which is also called oral cancer.

Hi. I'm Dr. Katharine Price at Mayo Clinic, and I'm here to answer some of the important questions you may have about oral cancer.

There are several things that you can do to prevent oral cancer. The most important is not to use any tobacco. It is also important not to drink too much alcohol or to abstain from alcohol altogether. A very simple thing that everyone can do that will decrease the risk of oral cancer is increase fruit and vegetable consumption. It's very important to try and reduce stress and to exercise on a regular basis.

So as a cancer doctor, I'm commonly asked what is my chance of cure? And that's a very difficult question because there is no absolute time point where we can say that you are cured of your cancer. But for oral cancer, most of the cancers will come back within the first two years of treatment. And if somebody gets to five years after treatment with no sign of cancer, the chance of it coming back is very, very low. So in general, we think about a five-year mark after cancer treatment as being cured. But again, it is not an absolute cut-off and sometimes we'll see recurrences beyond that point. But it is very unlikely.

It is very important for all patients to know that mental illness after or during a diagnosis of oral cancer is very common. The most common things that we'll see are depression and anxiety. Depression is very common, particularly when patients are going through treatment or immediately afterwards where they still have a lot of symptoms that they're trying to recover from. Anxiety would be the most common thing that we see. Because a diagnosis of cancer highlights the uncertainty of the future. None of us know what the future holds. None of us know if we're going to survive tomorrow or a year or 10 years from now. But having a cancer diagnosis really brings that to the forefront. What is really important for patients to know is that help is available. That help can take a lot of different forms, from medications to therapy to alternative treatments.

If you happen to be taking care of somebody who has oral cancer and is going through oral cancer treatment, the most important thing that you can do is show up and be there for them in a general sense. There's a lot of things that are impacted when somebody goes through oral cancer treatment. Some of the things that we do every day are hard: eating, sleeping, speaking. They may have pain. They may have side effects from treatment. And unfortunately, as a caregiver, you can't take any of those things away, but you can be supportive in a general sense and just be there with them. Know that you can't fix it, but that you can walk on that pathway with them so that they're not alone.

When someone is going through cancer treatment, your medical team does not expect you to pretend like everything's okay or put on a happy face. We know that you're going through difficult problems and we know that the treatment that we're having you do can be very difficult and cause a lot of symptoms. So the single most important thing is to communicate with your team, to let them know how you're doing. Never hesitate to ask your medical team any questions or concerns you have. Being informed makes all the difference. Thanks for your time and we wish you well.