Oral cancer includes cancer of the tongue, lips, neck, back of the throat, and soft tissues of the mouth. Like all cancers, oral cancer is caused by changes to your cell DNA, which causes abnormal cell growth that can lead to tumors .
A definitive cause for why this uncontrolled cell growth starts isn’t clear; however, we do know of several things that increase your risk for oral cancer. Here are the top risk factors and how you can get screened for oral cancer.
All types of tobacco use increase your risk for oral cancer. These include cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. In fact, tobacco use is considered to be a major risk factor for oral cancer .
If you don’t use tobacco but instead use e-cigarettes, also called vaping, you are still exposing yourself to harmful chemicals that increase your risk for oral cancer . While regular use will put you at a much higher risk, even recreational tobacco use can influence your chances of developing oral cancer.
Alcohol use, particularly heavy alcohol use, has been linked to oral cancer. In fact, having 21 or more drinks in one week is considered to be alcohol abuse, and alcohol abuse is the second biggest risk factor for developing oral cancer . That’s three or more drinks per day. Reducing your alcohol consumption may help lower your chances of getting oral cancer.
HPV, which stands for human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can increase your risk for certain types of cancers, including oral cancers, including those in the back of the throat, especially the tongue and tonsils . If you are younger than age 26, you can get vaccinated for HPV. Some individuals older than 27 may be able to receive the vaccination as well.
Sun exposure can also influence your risk for oral cancer. Getting a lot of sun has been linked to lip cancer . Fortunately, you can wear lip balms that have SPF in them to help protect your lips from the damage the sun may cause. Of course, wearing sunscreen on your face and neck is always a good idea too!
What Happens During an Oral Cancer Screening?
An oral cancer screening is a simple and painless way for your dentist to check for oral cancer. During your regular exam and cleaning, your dentist will feel your face and neck for any abnormalities and ask you a few questions about any symptoms you may have. Oral cancer screenings are done annually to check for oral cancer.
When it comes to oral cancers, these risk factors are entirely preventable. Taking care of your body and your smile with healthy lifestyle practices can help prevent oral cancer. And don’t forget to follow up with your dentist for an oral cancer screening every year!