Phone (513) 251-5500
November 2nd, 2017

Do You Know the Top 5 Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?

Category: dental health

what to know oral cancer

Oral cancer: it’s a serious subject, and for good reason!

Cancer, as you may or may not know, is when cells in our body begin to grow in a way that is out of control. Really, any cell in our body can become cancerous.

So what about cancer of the mouth or “oral cancer”?

Oral Cancer: What to Know

Many times when people talk about oral cancer they are talking about oral cavity cancer or oropharyngeal cancer—or both.

When we talk about our “oral cavity” that really includes our lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks, the teeth, and the gums. But it also includes the tongue, the floor of the mouth that is below that, the then our hard palate which is the roof of the mouth.

Then the oropharynx is a fancy work for the part of the throat that’s right behind our mouth. So, as you can imagine, it includes the base of your tongue and the back part of the roof of the mouth, your tonsils and then the side and back of the throat (1)! Phew, that’s a lot of important area!

The point is that cancer in these areas is going to either be oral cavity cancer and/or  oropharyngeal cancer (1).

Risk factors for both these types of cancers can be avoided by making choices that support a healthy lifestyle. Let’s take a look at the top 5 risk factors.

oral cancer know the risk factors hagen dental practice

The Top 5 Risk Factors to Be Aware Of

Keeping in mind there are more risk factors than just these 5, here are the top 5 factors that put you at risk for oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue:

1. Tobacco

Whether smoked or chewed, tobacco use is the number one risk factor for oral cancer. Consider these figures, whether or not you smoke or use chew:

  • A recent analysis conducted estimated that 8 out of 10 oral cancer deaths expected to occur would be directly attributable to cigarette smoking (4)
  • About 90 percent of people with oral cancer use tobacco (5)
  • Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of oral cancers by about 50 times (5)

What’s more is that smoking can also cause cancer in other parts of the body, too.

In case you haven’t gotten the point, consider this: if you stop the use of all tobacco products, that the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of both oral and oropharyngeal cancer?

If you’re reading this and you’re worried because you are a current tobacco user, keep in mind that this statement is true, even if you’ve been using tobacco for years. It’s never too late to quit using tobacco for the sake of your overall health and to cut down on risk of oral cancer.

2. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol also greatly increases a smoker’s risk of developing oral cancer. And, around 80 percent of all patients with oral cancer drink alcohol, too (5).

But, that aside, even alcohol by itself is still a risk factor. Here’s where things get complicated: in many studies, researchers find that one problem with identifying alcohol as an independent risk factor for oral cancer is that heavy drinkers are usually heavy users of tobacco! Said another way, heavy alcohol users are often heavy tobacco users, so it can be a bit hard to differentiate the two when it comes to the science (4).

7 out of 10 patients are heavy drinkers

3. Exposure to the sun

This risk could also be re-written as “exposure to UV light.” That’s because sunlight, for most people, is the main source of UV light that we receive!

Cancers of the lip, according to research, are in fact more common in people who report more exposure to the sun (and more exposure to UV light). So, if you have a job outside or you spend a great deal of time outside for whatever reason, be sure to wear sunscreen which helps to reduce the harmful effects of prolonged sun exposure (1).

4. HPV

HPV is now associated with about 9,000 cases of head and neck cancer per year in the US alone, according to the CDC (2). And, on average, every day about 12,000 people ages 15 to 24 are infected with HPV, which goes to show you its prevalence (6).

Generally speaking, the vast majority of infected people, even with a high-risk version of HPV known to cause cancers will not develop cancer. In other words, only a very small percentage of those who have HPV infections of the mouth and throat develop oropharyngeal cancer.

But, in short, it still puts you at an increased risk of developing cancer. If you have more questions about this topic, be sure to ask us, since we’re giving the simplified, shortened version here!

5. Gender

Now this factor can make you scratch your head. Statistics suggest that men are twice more likely to get oral cancer than women are. But let’s dig deeper.

The American Cancer Society attributes this risk factor to several things. First, higher rates of alcohol use by men. Second, there are also higher tobacco use rates reported by men. Last, the American Cancer Society also points towards the fact that men of a younger age are being diagnosed with HPV-related forms of oral cancer.

With that context in mind, it’s hard to know if men really are simply at greater risk, purely by being male, or if there’s a lot of other factors that make this one a bit more complex.

Early Oral Cancer Detection At Your Dentist

Nearly 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue this year (2). What’s more is that the 5-year relative survival rates for cancers of the oral cavity and throat are much improved when early detection occurs (3).

Prevention and early detection is key; after all, when you visit us, we’re screening you for cancer—which many people don’t know! Not only is early detection and diagnosis important, but it allows for more treatment options.

If you haven’t had your regular check-up, be sure to give us a call today at (513) 251-5500. We’d love to see you!




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