It’s important to understand the risk factors for oral cancer for better early detection and prevention!

An estimated 53,000 adults are diagnosed with oral cancer annually, with the rates for men being twice as high when compared to women. Not only can oral cancer cause facial abnormalities, but it impacts the quality of life in how a person can eat, swallow, and speak. 

We’re often bombarded with other cancer campaigns that oral cancer can be almost non-existent in our minds, but it’s a cancer that can be better prevented through lifestyle choices and early detection.  

At the Alaska Center For Oral + Facial Surgery, we’re here to walk with you and support you in your journey — whether that’s watching your little get cleft palate surgery or addressing a tumor in your oral cavity. Learn more about the risk factors for oral cancer so you can take preventative action and perhaps find early detection! 

Oral Cancer: Early Detection

First and foremost, we want to stress the importance of early detection when it comes to oral cancer. Bi-annual checkups at your local dentist is a great place to start, and many dentists offer cancer screenings as well. 

The exam typically involves a visual inspection in addition to palpating your head, neck, oral, and pharyngeal areas. It’s important that your dental health professional provides a thorough exam. Oftentimes, oral cancer can be missed or go undetected longer because it’s thought to be an illness and first treated with antibiotics — only to find that it doesn’t go away. 

Be an advocate for your health — if something seems off or you do not get better, see a specialist that can perform a biopsy.  

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

When we refer to oral cancer risk factors, we’re referring to the factors that increase the chances of a person developing this type of cancer, and while risk factors can influence developing cancer, they don’t necessarily cause it. 

This is why you’ll see some people with several risk factors never develop it, while others with little to no known risk factors may develop it. 

This is why it’s important to not only know what the risk factors are but to be more diligent in prevention in the factors that may be a red flag. 

Let’s explore more of the oral cancer risk factors below.

Lifestyle Factors

Many of the risk factors associated with oral cancer can be attributed to lifestyle components, which is good news because they can be addressed and amended when it comes to oral cancer prevention. 

Lifestyle factors include:

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Sun exposure
  • Poor diet
  • Poor oral health habits
  • Sexual health

Alcohol And Oral Cancer

Research has indicated that those who consume a heavy amount of alcohol, have an increased risk in developing oral cancer — studies have found cases with rates as high as 94% in men and 82% in women. The trouble with alcohol is that it’s hard to say if it’s an independent risk factor because those who heavily drink also seem to smoke and/or have a poor diet. 

It can also be hard to quantify because when people are asked about their alcohol usage they typically under report, and it’s the level of consumption that is a huge risk factor when it comes to oral cancer.   

In the end, it can be reasonably assumed that consuming alcohol in excess over an expanded period of time may promote the occurrence of oral cancer. 

Tobacco Use And Oral Cancer

Tobacco use that includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco is the single leading risk factor in developing head and neck cancer, with roughly 85% of head and neck cancers being linked to tobacco use. 

On the other hand, pipe smoking is linked to cancer in the lips, while chewing tobacco is associated with a 50% increase in the risk of developing cancer in the gums, cheeks, and inner parts of the mouth.  

Sun Exposure And Oral Cancer

When we think of skin cancer when often associate it with moles on our bodies, but there is a connection to prolonged and large amounts of sun exposure being linked to cancer in the lip area. 

Poor Diet And Oral Cancer

Those who are deficient or only consume a small amount of vitamin A have been shown to have an increased risk of developing oral cancer, so the assumption is that those who don’t eat a variety of fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin A are at a greater risk.   

Poor Oral Health Habits And Oral Cancer

The standard in prevention for any dental health issues and oral cancer risk factors is proper and consistent oral health care. This means brushing and flossing regularly and seeing the dentist twice a year. It also means eating a healthy diet that is rich in whole foods and limits processed ones. 

Sexual Health And Oral Cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that poses as a risk factor in oral cancer. HPV-related oral cancer is often transmitted in the tonsils and at the base of the tongue through oral sex with someone who is infected with HPV. 

Sexual activity with someone who already has HPV is the leading way in which it is contracted, which makes it imperative to use protection, however, a condom is thought to not fully protect you during sexual intercourse.    

Other Risk Factors

Apart from lifestyle factors which comprise the majority of oral cancer risk factors, other risk factors for oral cancer include:

Age – Many of the cases of oral cancer are seen in people over the age of 55, except in the case of HPV-related oral cancers which are seen in younger populations. 

Gender – As we mentioned earlier, men are twice as likely than women to develop oral cancer.

Oral Cancer Treatments

Depending on the type, stage, and location of oral cancer  there are a variety of options available to treat it, and they include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

Oral Cancer Treatment At Alaska Center For Oral + Facial Surgery

There are a variety of services we offer at AOFS to address oral cancer and tumors related to oral and maxillofacial surgery including:

  • Removal of cysts ( odontogenic and non-odontogenic
  • Biopsies of tissues pertaining to the mouth face, head, and neck for diagnosis
  • Removal of tongue mass (tongue lesions)
  • Cutting the jaw bone for diagnosis purposes
  • Removal of malignant and non-malignant lip lesions
  • Reconstruction of the lip   

For a full, comprehensive list visit our Trauma And Pathology Of The Head And Neck page.

Support your oral health through prevention and early detection! 

Developing oral cancer can come from a host of risk factors, namely lifestyle factors, and include alcohol, cigarettes, sun exposure, poor diet, poor oral health habits, and sexual health, in addition to age and gender. 

As you work to reduce or limit these risks, it not only supports better health but it lessens the risk factors associated with the disease. 

The most important thing when it comes to oral cancer is limiting your risk through lifestyle changes and through early detection from your dentist or oral surgeon. And most importantly, if you feel like something is off or wrong and you’re not finding answers, consult with your doctor. 

For more information about how we can assist you in your dental health journey, connect with us today!