Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, can occur anywhere in the oral cavity – including the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and pharynx (throat). Although it’s a serious condition, understanding the risk factors and taking steps to mitigate them can significantly reduce your risk. Here, we’ll discuss what oral cancer is, its risk factors, and the steps you can take to minimise your risk.
Understanding Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is a type of head and neck cancer and is often treated similarly to other forms of cancers. It starts in the cells of the mouth, tongue or throat. Oral cancer cells can then grow and spread into nearby areas, such as the jaw or neck, or via the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Early detection is vital, as the survival rate for oral cancer is significantly higher when caught early. Regular check-ups with your dentist, who will perform an oral cancer screening, can help catch this disease in its earliest stages.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer:
All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, among others, increase the oral cancer risk.
Those who consume alcohol heavily (more than four drinks daily) have a higher chance of oral cancer.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV):
Certain types of HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, can cause oral cancer.
Exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can increase the risk of cancer on the lips.
A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables may increase the chances of oral cancer.
Most oral cancers occur in people over the age of 40.
Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer compared to women.
Top 7 Ways To Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer
While you can’t control all risk factors, such as age and gender, there are several proactive steps you can take to lower your risk of oral cancer:
1. Quit Tobacco:
If you use tobacco in any form, quit. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. Both tobacco and alcohol increase your oral cancer chances, and using them together increases this risk even further.
2. Limit Alcohol:
Moderate to heavy drinkers are more likely to develop oral cancer. Limit your alcohol intake to reduce your risk.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet:
Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can lower your chance of oral cancer. These foods are rich in antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage that can lead to cancer.
4. Protect Yourself from the Sun:
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, protect your lips. You can use a lip balm with an SPF rating of at least 15, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, including your mouth.
5. Practice Safe Sex:
HPV is a risk factor for oral cancer, and it’s predominantly transmitted through sexual contact. You can reduce your risk of HPV infection by practicing safe sex.
6. Regular Dental Check-ups:
Regular visits to your dentist can help detect signs of oral cancer early. The Australian Dental Association recommends dental check-ups at intervals determined by your dentist. These visits usually include a full mouth and throat examination to screen for oral cancer.
7. HPV Vaccination:
The HPV vaccine can protect against the types of HPV most likely to cause oral and other cancers.
In conclusion, while oral cancer is a serious condition, understanding the risk factors and taking preventative measures can reduce the risk of oral cancer.
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