Oral cancer happens when cells mutate and grow rapidly in your throat, cheeks, gums, tongue, or lips. It might not feel as common as other types of cancers, but oral cancer is much more prevalent than you might think, with as many as 53,000 diagnoses. While many forms of oral cancer are treatable and the majority of patients can successfully transition into remission, oral cancer causes nearly 10,000 deaths each year.
Talking about cancer is never a pleasant subject – but having an open and honest discussion with your dentist can go a long way in ensuring that your mouth is well-protected for years to come. Could you be at risk of developing oral cancer? In the sections below, we’ve outlined the leading causes of oral cancer to help you understand the contributing factors (and whether you are at risk).
Aging is an unavoidable part of life – and for the most part, so are the side effects of aging. Along with wrinkles, gray hairs, and lowered immune strength, you may also experience an increased risk for oral cancer as you get older. Most oral cancer diagnoses occur in patients aged 60 or higher, though your overall risk will naturally increase during your 40s.
Men are much more likely to develop oral cancer than women. In fact, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer. This discrepancy may result from lifestyle patterns more prevalent in men (such as smoking and drinking) – or it could be linked to increased cases of HPV, covered below.
Cases of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are increasing throughout the U.S., and many diagnoses show a correlation between HPV and oral cancer. Today, HPV is believed to be a contributing factor in as many as 70 percent of all oral cancers. What’s the link between HPV and men? Women develop HPV antibodies much quicker, which could explain the higher rates of oral cancer in men.
Heavy drinking has long been associated with oral cancers. Alcohol is often acidic or high in sugar and acts as an irritant in your mouth and throat. This irritation could damage cells and trigger rapid repair, leading to cancerous growth. Additionally, alcohol increases the likelihood of cavities and decay while making it much easier for harmful bacteria and cancerous cells to travel throughout your body.
If your dentist has advised you to stop smoking tobacco, now might be the time to heed their advice. Users of tobacco products are putting themselves at a much higher risk of developing oral cancer: the toxic additives in cigarettes, pipes, and chewing tobacco damage cells and create the perfect environment for cancerous cells to grow.
Having a solid at-home dental hygiene routine is a great way to protect your mouth from oral cancer. Regular brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash will keep harmful bacteria at bay while protecting against decay and disease. In fact, a recent study found that adults with gum disease were at a 14–20 percent higher risk of oral cancer due to changes in immune system function.
Do any of these leading causes of oral cancer apply to you? Now is the time to reach out to Steger Smiles and schedule a checkup! We can examine your mouth for any potential issues, discuss your individual risk factors, and help you find the best oral hygiene routine to minimize your risk for oral cancer.