What Increases the Risk of Oral Cancer?

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You may have heard of oral cancer because of celebrities who have suffered from it and received media coverage. The treatment for oral cancer is often debilitating, removing parts of the tongue, jaw, and facial tissue, leaving the patient disfigured. Oral cancer is also a particularly deadly cancer – not because it is difficult to treat, but because diagnosis often occurs only when the cancer is advanced.

When diagnosed early and treated properly, the patient’s chance for survival increases dramatically. While oral cancer can have genetic factors, some of the risk factors are based on lifestyle choices.

Tobacco and Alcohol Use

Both alcohol and tobacco use are found to play a part in more than nine out of ten people diagnosed with oral cancer. When used together, the risk is even greater.

  • Alcohol abuse – Defined as more than twenty-one standard drinks per week, alcohol abuse is a major factor in oral cancer diagnosis. The best way to prevent oral cancer completely is to discontinue use. When patients stop drinking for ten years or more, their risk decreases to that of a non-drinker.
  • Tobacco use – According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, eight out of ten people who are diagnosed with oral cancer are also tobacco users – either oral tobacco use or smokers.

Considered a “lifestyle” disease, meaning that patients may control many of their risk factors, oral cancer used to affect mostly men. Recently, however, the ratio has dropped from 6:1 to 2:1 in recent years. This can be attributed to increased alcohol consumption in women in addition to the risk factor of the HPV (human papilloma virus). According to the CDC, more than 80% of people will contract HPV at some point during their lives, but nearly 95% will clear it from their systems without consequence. 

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