How to Outsmart Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can be caused by genetics, lifestyle factors (smoking, heavy alcohol use), infections, or environmental exposures like excess sun. Although you can’t control your genes, you can control lifestyle choices and sun exposure.1 To mark Oral-Cancer Awareness Month, find out if you’re at increased risk and learn what you can do to ward off the disease.

People with increased risk include:

  1. Tobacco users. At least 75 percent of all people who get oral cancer use tobacco. It doesn’t matter if it’s cigarettes, pipes, cigars, or chewing tobacco – the longer you’ve used tobacco products, the greater your risk.1 Quit or cut back use of these products.
  2. Habitual tanners or anyone with a nature-loving lifestyle. Trade the tanning bed for UV-free bronzing lotion. If you come by your tan naturally – for instance, if you work outside or enjoy outdoor sports – stock up on SPF. Another good choice for outdoor lovers: hats.2 Though we associate SPF with sunscreen, SPF-laced lip balm is a sun-time must.2 Lip cancers are caused primarily by excess sun exposure.
  3. Excessive drinkers. Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t necessarily put you at risk, but consistently overdoing it has been linked to disease.1 Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of oral-cancer patients say they drink alcohol often. The more you drink, the greater the risk.2
  4. Individuals exposed to human papillomaviruses (HPV). Twenty percent to 30 percent of all oral cancer is associated with an HPV infection, the most common sexually transmitted infection.2 Educate yourself on HPV and play it safe.

Oral-cancer risk factors you can’t control include age (age 45 or older), gender (male), race (African-American), and a family history of oral cancer1. If you have hereditary risks, it’s even more important to manage your lifestyle risks. Talk to your physician or dentist if you feel your heredity or lifestyle may have increased your risk for oral cancer.

1 http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/OralCancer/General/22,21467
2 http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/Search/22,21283


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