Understanding Oral Cancer: Are You at Risk?

Oral cancer will strike more than 48,000 U.S. residents in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). That’s equal to roughly 132 new cases every day.

Oral Cancer

Almost 20 percent of these patients will die as a result of this pervasive disease.

What are your chances of being diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer?

Although no one can truly predict whether you will develop oral cancers during your lifetime, several specific factors are known to increase your risk.

Lifestyle Risks of Oral Cancer

Do you smoke or use chewing tobacco?

The ACS says that most people who develop oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancers use some form of tobacco. In fact, smokers are much more likely than non-smokers to contract these diseases. And users of oral tobacco products, particularly those who have chewed for a long time, are especially likely to develop cancer of the cheeks, gums or lips.

How often do you consume alcohol?

Heavy drinking can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer. In fact, nearly 7 out of 10 people diagnosed with this condition are heavy drinkers. If you regularly drink and smoke or use chewing tobacco, your risk of falling victim to one of these cancers may be as much as 100 times greater than for people who don’t use these products.

Medical Conditions Linked to Oral Cancer

A family history of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer may mean that you are more prone to developing one of these diseases yourself. Aside from that, though, some chronic medical conditions can heighten your cancer risk.

Infection from some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked with throat cancer. These cancers are also common in people who have weakened immune systems, such as from AIDS, and those with certain genetic syndromes, including Fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenital.

Other conditions that can increase the probability of developing this disease include graft-versus-host disease, which sometimes occurs after a stem cell transplant, and lichen planus, a skin disease.

Other Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

Men are about twice as likely as women to develop some sort of pathology, and the disease is most typically diagnosed in patients older than 55.

However, this could change in the future, as the number of oral cancers related to HPV infection is rising. Research from the ACS indicates that HPV DNA is found in about two-thirds of oropharyngeal cancer cases.

People who work outdoors or who are frequently exposed to sunlight face an increased danger of developing lip cancer. And some studies have shown that oral cavity cancer may be more common in people with diets low in fruits and vegetables.

Early detection is key to successful treatment of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. Contact Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, serving the greater Salt Lake City area, to schedule an exam and screening for oral cancer.