What You Need to Know about Preventing Oral Cancer

What You Need to Know about Preventing Oral Cancer

Nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. This is a key reason to make regular appointments with your doctor and dentist. As with almost any medical condition, treatment for oral cancer is more effective when it starts early.

Oral surgeons often play significant roles in treating the disease. They’re qualified to perform a range of procedures that serve to remove harmful tumors.

While an oral surgeon can provide effective treatment in many instances, it’s obviously a good idea to do what you can to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer in the first place.

You can’t control every factor that may potentially lead to the development of oral cancer. Factors such as genetic predisposition may contribute to a higher than average risk of being diagnosed with the condition.

However, there are some factors you can control that may help you avoid developing oral cancer. They include the following:

Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.

Smoking and using tobacco products are among the most significant risk factors for oral cancer. Several studies have shown that smoking any kind of tobacco increases your risk of developing oral cancer anywhere from two to ten times over. Your risk increases with the frequency and duration of your use—the longer and more frequently you use tobacco, the more likely you are to develop oral cancer. Tobacco products are also harmful to your health because they increase your risk of developing lung cancer. If you smoke or chew tobacco, talk to your doctor about creating a sustainable plan for quitting.


In addition, don’t make the common mistake of assuming smokers are the only ones at risk. Chewing tobacco and snuff tobacco are also dangerous. And although research into the impact of vaping on oral cancer is currently limited, it’s also a good idea to avoid this habit. Researchers simply aren’t confident it represents a safe alternative.

Eat a healthy diet.

Studies indicate that people who consume high amounts of healthful fruits and vegetables are less likely than others to develop oral cancer. As with many of the points in this blog, this simply reaffirms a general wellness tip you should already be following for optimal health and wellness.

Sticking to a nutritious diet supports your health in many ways. The fact that it reduces your chances of developing oral cancer is one of seemingly countless reasons to eat healthful foods.

Don’t drink too much alcohol.

Excessive alcohol consumption is another habit that can negatively impact your health in many ways. Some studies indicate alcohol use can make a person six times more likely to develop oral cancer than they would otherwise be.

Although you may still drink alcoholic beverages in moderation (if your physician approves), avoid drinking to excess. It’s also particularly important not to combine alcohol consumption with tobacco use. This further increases your odds of being diagnosed with oral cancer. In total, around 80 percent of all oral cancers are attributed to tobacco and/or alcohol use.

Get vaccinated for HPV.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that most often has no symptoms, but can cause genital warts. Researchers have also identified a clear link between an HPV diagnosis and an increased risk of oral cancer. And besides oral cancer, HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women and cancer of the penis in men.  


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), all boys and girls ages 11 to 12 should receive the HPV vaccine series; older teens should also receive it. (It is most effective when administered before the individual is exposed to HPV.) The CDC additionally recommends the vaccine for other people, including young men up to age 26 who have sex with other men, and young adults with immuno-compromising conditions through age 26.

Don’t chew areca nuts.

Evidence now suggests that chewing areca nuts puts one at a greater-than-average risk of developing oral cancer. Although this habit isn’t common in the U.S., there are plenty of regions and cultures where it is, particularly in Asia and Asian immigrant communities worldwide. Be aware that areca nuts are now regarded as carcinogens. Avoid them to protect your health.

Protect your skin from the sun.

Many people understand the importance of protecting their skin when spending time in the sun. You’re more likely to develop skin cancer if you don’t guard against the harmful effects of UV rays.

In addition, many people overlook their lips when spending time outdoors. It’s important not to. Frequent exposure to the sun leads to an increased risk of developing lip cancer. If you’re going to be outside for a long period of time, wear sunscreen, protective lip balm, and a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face, and try to find shady areas whenever possible.

Don’t assume you don’t need sun protection on cloudy days or when it’s cold. Contrary to popular belief, harmful UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. Be sure to also protect yourself in situations where you may be exposed to the sun despite not being outdoors, such as while driving or sitting near a large window.