Understanding your risk for oral cancer allows for early detection and prompt treatment. These are both crucial for improving outcomes in oral cancer. The danger of oral cancer lies in its potential to progress rapidly, metastasize, and significantly impact a person’s health. Regular dental check-ups and screenings can improve outcomes for individuals at risk for oral cancer. 

Several factors can increase the risk of developing oral cancer. These include:

  1. Tobacco Use: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or using smokeless tobacco products (such as chewing tobacco or snuff) significantly increases the risk of oral cancer. Tobacco contains carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) that can damage cells in the mouth and lead to the development of cancer.
  2. Heavy Alcohol Consumption: Drinking alcohol excessively, especially when combined with tobacco use, is a significant risk factor for oral cancer. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the mouth and throat, making it more susceptible to the effects of carcinogens.
  3. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Infection with certain strains of HPV, particularly HPV-16, is associated with an increased risk of developing oropharyngeal cancers, which include cancers of the back of the throat, base of the tongue, and tonsils.
  4. Age: The risk of developing oral cancer increases with age, with the majority of cases diagnosed in individuals over the age of 55. However, oral cancer can occur at any age.
  5. Gender: Men are at higher risk of developing oral cancer than women. This difference in risk may be partly attributed to higher rates of tobacco and alcohol use among men, as well as hormonal factors.
  6. Sun Exposure: Prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of lip cancer, particularly lower lip cancer. This risk is more significant for individuals who work outdoors or engage in outdoor activities without adequate sun protection.
  7. Poor Oral Hygiene: Chronic irritation or inflammation of the oral tissues, such as those caused by poor oral hygiene, ill-fitting dentures, or sharp teeth, may increase the risk of oral cancer.
  8. Dietary Factors: A diet low in fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, may be associated with a higher risk of oral cancer. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods, red meat, and unhealthy fats may increase the risk.
  9. Previous Oral Cancer Diagnosis: Individuals who have had oral cancer in the past are at higher risk of developing a second primary cancer in the oral cavity or nearby areas.
  10. Genetic Factors: Some genetic factors may predispose individuals to oral cancer, although the role of genetics in oral cancer risk is not fully understood.

It’s important to note that while these factors can increase the risk of oral cancer, not everyone with these risk factors will develop the disease, and some individuals may develop oral cancer without any known risk factors. Additionally, reducing or eliminating exposure to these risk factors can help lower the overall risk of developing oral cancer. 

Being vigilant about your oral health and watching for signs and symptoms of oral cancer is essential for early detection and treatment. 

Click here to see signs and symptoms of oral cancer.