Oral Health

Top 5 Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

Apr 22 • 2 minute read

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a time when dental and other medical professionals unite to create a larger awareness of oral cancer.

What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer refers to cancer of the mouth, while oropharyngeal cancer refers to cancer of the pharynx or back of the throat. And guess who is your first line of defense against early detection...your dental provider!

How Many People Does It Affect?
Here are the American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers in the United States for 2020:

  • About 53,260 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer.
  • An estimated 10,750 people will die of these cancers. 

5 Risk Factors

Doctors are constantly striving to understand oral cancer’s origins, but the issue is complex. However, the five factors described below may place you at greater risk of contracting oral and oropharyngeal cancers.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)
This sexually transmitted disease is now associated with about 9,000 cases of head and neck cancer (specifically those occurring at the back of the tongue, in or around the tonsils) diagnosed each year in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society, men are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed and die from oral cancer than women. They attribute this to higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use, but also say that within younger men, it is due to contracting HPV.

Oral Cancer by Gender

Whether you smoke it or chew it, tobacco use dramatically increases your risk of getting oral cancer. Pipe smokers also have a higher risk of developing cancer in their lips. It is interesting to note that even smokeless tobacco can lead to cancer of the cheeks, gums, and lips.

According to the American Cancer Society, 7 of 10 oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is an average of two drinks a day or more for men and an average of more than one drink a day for women.

Not Getting Regular Check-Ups
Did you know that your dentist is the first line of defense against the early detection of oral cancer? Every time you visit the dentist, the provider examines your tongue, teeth, gums, and every other surface in the mouth. Your dentist is not only checking for plaque buildup and cavities in your teeth, but they are also looking for any signs of oral cancer and early detection is key! If left untreated, oral cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become very difficult to contain.

Now you have a better idea of the 5 most significant risk factors for developing oral cancer. As you can see, nearly all of these factors are related to lifestyle choices. Those who choose to over-consume alcohol or smoke should seriously evaluate the necessity of these behaviors in their life. If you are not scheduling regular dental check-ups, we encourage you to make an appointment with our experienced dental team today.

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