Five percent of all tumors occur in the head and neck, and approximately half of those occur specifically in the oral cavity. Of the 615,000 new cases of head and neck [corrected] tumors reported worldwide in 2000, 300,000 were primary oral cavity squamous cell carcinomas. Recent data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program suggest that 28,900 new cases of oral cancer will be identified and 7400 deaths attributed to oral cancer each year in the United States. The sixth leading cause of cancer-related mortality, oral cancer accounts for 1 death every hour in the United States. However, despite advances in screening tools, imaging technology, and access to primary care physicians, a considerable percentage of patients present with advanced-stage disease. Clinical signs and symptoms of head and neck tumors are often nonspecific and may be mistaken for other common ailments. Primary care physicians must be aware of the possibility of oral cancer, particularly the increasing incidence in young patients without traditional risk factors of alcohol and tobacco abuse. To improve survival, all patients should be routinely and vigilantly screened for oral mucosal lesions.