Oral Cancer Risk Factors

According to the American Cancer Society, some 45,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer annually. Of those, some twenty percent will die from the disease, and others will succumb within a five-year period. Diagnosing this form of cancer early is key to a successful recovery, with twice as many patients surviving if the cancer is detected quickly. Although the VELscope screening device helps our Sacramento dentists and hygienists identify suspect tissues in the oral cavity, the best defense against oral cancer is avoiding its risk factors through healthy lifestyle choices.

Behaviors that Increase the Oral Cancer Risk

Men over the age of forty are the most common patients with oral cancer. Since it is impossible to control either of those characteristics, here are the risk factors than can be controlled and that are common no matter what the age or sex of the patient:

  • Tobacco use, in any form;
  • Frequent alcohol consumption;
  • Excessive sun exposure (leading to lip cancer);
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables;
  • HPV infection.

While tobacco use creates a certain level of risk and excessive alcohol use likewise, combining these two behaviors places a person in the group most likely to acquire oral cancer. Another important consideration is infection with human papilloma virus (HPV). Two-thirds of oropharyngeal cancers (those affecting the back of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils, and throat) contain HPV. While HPV is not necessarily transmitted through sexual contact, eighty percent of sexually active people are infected with a form of this virus. Therefore, taking precautions against sexually transmitted disease is essential to minimize this risk factor.

The Good News About Oral Cancer Risks

Quitting tobacco and limiting alcohol use sharply reduce the risk of developing oral cancer, even after many years of use.” — American Cancer Society

While these behaviors all increase the likelihood of contracting oral cancer, correcting the problem has the opposite effect. People who stop engaging in any of the above risk factors reduce their risk over time, as mentioned by the American Cancer Society. While the Sacramento Dentistry Group can help diagnose and treat oral cancers, the best “cure” for cancer is simply prevention.

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