By Paul Kurtz

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As part of National Oral Cancer Awareness Month, Jefferson Hospital is offering free screenings to address a growing problem.

Dr. Richard Goldman examined nearly 50 people who took Jefferson Hospital up on its oral cancer screening offer last week. His department has become very busy in recent years.

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“It’s playing an increasing role in our practice in terms of taking care of people with head and neck cancers,” Dr. Goldman said. “That is becoming a very significant proportion of patients who have cancers of the tonsil and tongue base.”

Recent studies have shown a big surge in HPV-related cancers among unlikely patients.

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“People in middle-age without significant risk factors for other head and neck cancers,” Goldman said.

Goldman recommends a screening for anyone who thinks they have symptoms.

“Difficulty with swallowing, pain with swallowing, a new lump in the neck, painful lesion in the throat, certainly any visible abnormalities in the throat or tonsils like a red spot or a firm spot,” he explained. “Those are probably the most common symptoms.”

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The next free screening is scheduled for Abington Hospital on Wednesday, April 19.