Oral cancers account for approximately 3 percent of all cases of cancer in the United States. An estimated 30,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, and about one half of them will eventually die of the disease. The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Sixty percent of oral cancers are well advanced by the time they are detected, even though physicians and dentists frequently examine the oral cavity. The two most important risk factors for oral cancer are tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption. The keys to reducing mortality are prevention and control. The earlier any intraoral or extraoral abnormalities or lesions are detected and biopsied, the more lives can be saved. Controversy exists whether screening programs effectively reduce the mortality rate. Specific step-by-step guidelines should be followed to perform an adequate examination of the head and neck.