Are You At Risk?
Virtually everyone is at risk for oral cancer, including you. 25% of oral cancers occur in people with no risk factors. Here are the most common ones:
Gender: Oral cancer is twice as common in men as in women. This difference may be related to the use of alcohol and tobacco, which is a major oral cancer risk factor seen more commonly in men than in women.
Age: The average age at diagnosis for oral cancer is 62, and two-thirds of individuals with this disease are over age 55, although it occurs in younger people, as well.
Tobacco Use: Most people with mouth and throat cancers use tobacco, and the risk of developing these cancers is related to how much and how long they smoked or chewed.
Oral tobacco products (snuff, dip, spit, chew, or dissolvable tobacco) are linked with cancers of the cheek, gums and lips. These products also accelerate gum disease, the destruction of the bone that supports the teeth, and tooth loss.
Drinking Alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing mouth and throat cancers. About 7 out of 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.
The risk of these cancers is even higher in people who both smoke and drink alcohol. According to some studies, the risk of these cancers in heavy drinkers and smokers may be as much as 100 times higher than the risk in people who don’t smoke or drink.
Sexual Activity: In recent years, there has been an ongoing rise in cases of oropharyngeal cancer linked to human papilloma virus (HPV) infection in both men and women. HPV is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection and especially prevalent in young adults. Few people even know they have it. HPV has long been known to cause cervical cancer and now studies suggest that it also plays a role in more than 25% of oral cancer cases.
Ultraviolet light: Cancers of the lip are more common among people who work outdoors and visit tanning beds, and among those with prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Poor nutrition: Studies have found a link between diets low in fruits and vegetables and an increased oral cancer risk.