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Top 7 Risks Factors for oral Cancer

     April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and the American Dental Association has asked member dentists to share risk factors and prevention tips with our patients. Oral and pharyngeal cancers strike about 40,000 people each year.  Many of the cases are first detected in the dental chair.  As our dental team is checking your teeth and gums we are also looking for any abnormalities that may be signs of oral cancer.  So regular dental check ups are a great screening tool for oral cancer.  

Listed below are the top 7 risk factors for oral cancer

1. Gender: Men are twice as likely to get oral cancer. They visit the dentist less, drink more alcohol, and use more tobacco products.  Also more men are being diagnosed with HPV related forms of oral cancer.  So parents should be considering the HPV vaccine for their children. Men could benefit from regular dental visits and healthier habits.

2. Age: Oral cancer risks spikes after age 44. Median diagnosis age is 62 but we may see this age number decline because of increasing HPV related cases.

3. Tobacco: If you smoke it, chew it, or dip it, you have a greatly increased chance of developing oral cancer.  Pipe smokers are at high risk for lip cancer.  So the message is simple—-Don’t use tobacco products.

4. Alcohol: According to the American Cancer society, 7 out of 10 oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers. (2 or more drinks a day for men and more than 1 drinks a day for women)  The combo of heavy drinking and smoking multiplies the risk even further.

5. Human Papillomavirus (HPV): This sexually transmitted disease is now associated 10,000 cases of oropharyngeal cancer each year in the United States, according to the CDC.  HPV awareness is increasing and our understanding of this disease has explained why we are seeing more oral cancer in younger patients and in patients that don’t fit the typical profile (male, heavy drinkers, heavy smokers).  One bright note, patients with HPV related cancers have a lower risk of death or recurrence.

6.Sunlight: UV exposure increases risk for lip cancer.  So use that sun screen.  

7. Diet: A diet that lacks fruits and veggies may also increase risk for oral cancer.  So take your mother’s advise—put some color on that plate and eat your fruits and vegetables!

Awareness and simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in preventing oral cancer.  Thanks for tuning in.


Jeff Efird DDS