Oral cancer occurs when cellular growth in your mouth begins to mutate, causing your cells to grow much faster than normal. It can develop anywhere inside the mouth, including your tongue, gums, cheeks, and throat. In the US, there are anywhere between 49,000 to more than 53,000 new cases each year, with oral cancer making up three percent of total cancer diagnoses.
The good news is that oral cancer does not have a high mortality rate – in fact, many patients are able to successfully treat their cancer and go on to live healthy lives in remission. However, the treatment for oral cancer can be quite serious, particularly if oral cancer is not diagnosed until its later stages.
This is why it is so important to learn whether you may be at risk for oral cancer. Early detection and treatment can make a significant difference in the course of your treatment and recovery. Take a look at the sections below to see if you might be at risk for developing oral cancer, along with some actionable ways that you can decrease your risk today.
What are the risk factors for oral cancer?
While no two oral cancer patients are the same, there are some commonalities between oral cancer diagnoses that show some significant risk factors. Some lifestyle choices, habits, and health conditions may put you at a naturally higher risk of developing oral cancer. See the list below to see if you may be at risk:
- Age: As we age, our bodies tend to be more susceptible to illness – and the same is true for our mouth and gums. Most oral cancer patients tend to be in their 60s, but your risk will increase during your mid-40s.
- Gender: Gender does appear to play a role in oral cancer diagnoses; men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women.
- Smoking: If you are a smoker, you are certainly at a much higher risk. Tobacco use (including cigarettes, pipes, and especially chewing tobacco) increases your risk for oral cancer by as much as 10 times.
- Drinking: Heavy drinking on a regular basis has been pointed to as a cause of oral cancer.
- HPV: The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to oral cancer. In fact, as HPV diagnoses increase, this is thought to be the leading cause of 70 percent of oral cancers throughout the country.
- Sun exposure: Harmful UV rays from the sun can trigger abnormal cell growth on your lips, leading to oral cancer.
How can you decrease your risk of developing oral cancer?
Not all risk factors can be controlled; after all, we certainly can’t control the aging process (despite all of our best efforts!). Luckily, there are plenty of lifestyle changes that you can make to minimize your risk of developing oral cancer.
If you are outside in the sun, wear SPF lip balm or a wide-brimmed hat to protect your lips from UV rays. If you are a heavy smoker or drinker, quitting (or, at the very least, cutting back) will immediately improve your chances of staying healthy and cancer-free. And as the HPV vaccination has become widely available over the past few years, making an appointment with your primary care doctor to get the vaccine can go a long way in ensuring that you are well-protected against oral cancer.
Finally, maintaining a strong oral hygiene routine is one of the best ways that you can keep your mouth protected against oral cancer. Don’t neglect your flossing, brushing, and mouthwash while at home, and make sure that you schedule regular checkups with your dentist. This will not only keep your mouth free from harmful bacteria and decay, but it will also provide an easy way to spot any abnormalities as soon as possible.
If you are worried that you may be at risk for oral cancer, call Hinsdale Dental today. We’ll be happy to discuss the risk factors, recommend lifestyle changes, examine your mouth for any suspicious areas, and help you learn how to shape your oral hygiene routine so that you are well-protected for years to come!Return to Blog