Knowing Your Risk of Developing Oral Cancer
October 1, 2018

dentist checking x ray of teeth

Every year, the death rate from oral or throat cancer surpasses other common cancers, including cervical cancer, testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, thyroid, and skin cancer. The extremely high death rate results from the fact that most oral cancers go undiagnosed until the disease is well advanced. Once cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and other parts of the body, oral cancer becomes almost impossible to cure.

Oral cancer is typically painless in its early stages, and it often goes undetected until the patient begins suffering from chronic pain or loss of function. Knowing your risks for developing oral cancer, and early detection by Premier Dental, can significantly improve the survival rate of this disease.


Oral Cancer Screenings

If you visit the dentist regularly, you have probably already received an oral cancer screening without even realizing it. The exam process is painless and performed in under a minute. During a cancer screening, we check your neck and mouth for any discolorations, lumps, or any noticeable changes to the tissue inside your mouth. Oral cancer is typically found on the tongue, lips, gums, or on the tissues on the floor of your mouth under your tongue.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get oral cancer; however, some factors may increase your likelihood of developing the disease. Risk factors for developing oral cancer increase with age as it does in many cancers. Knowing your risk factors and being aware of your family’s medical history is your first step in defense against oral cancer going undetected. Here are the top oral cancer risk factors.

General Risk Factors

Age. The average age of patients diagnosed with oral cancer is 62 years old. Two-thirds of individuals with the disease are over the age of 55.

Gender. Oral cancer is twice as common in men as it is in women. The difference may be related to the increased use of alcohol and tobacco, which are both major oral cancer risk factors seen more commonly in men. According to the American Cancer Society, the gender difference is decreasing among oral cancer patients as more women are using tobacco and alcohol.

Ultraviolet Light. Those who spend a significant amount of time outdoors and do not use sunscreen or lip balm have a higher risk of developing lip cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight can also cause melanoma, the most severe type of skin cancer.

Diet and Nutrition. Studies have also found a link between poor nutrition and oral cancers. Diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and an increase in oropharynx increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Tobacco Use. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, a pipe, or chewing tobacco all elevate risk for developing oral cancer. Tobacco use is an especially dangerous risk factor because it contains substances called carcinogens, which are incredibly harmful to cells in your mouth.

Alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol, or those who drink alcohol on a regular basis, have an elevated risk of developing oral cancer. Alcohol abuse is defined as more than 21 alcoholic drinks in a one-week period and is the second highest risk factor for the development of oral cancer.

Genetic Risk Factors

Genetic Syndromes. Some inherited genetic mutations, which cause different syndromes in the body, carry a high risk of oral cancer developing. These include:

  • Fanconi anemia – A blood condition caused by inherited abnormalities in several genes. Issues can begin at an early age and often lead to leukemia or aplastic anemia. The risk of oral cancer among those with these diseases dramatically increase your risk.
  • Dyskeratosis congenita – A genetically linked syndrome that can also cause aplastic anemia, and carries a very high risk of mouth and throat cancer developing at an early age.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

If you are at a heightened risk of developing oral cancer, it’s critical for you to be aware of the  signs and symptoms of oral cancer. Contact us if you experience any of these symptoms that do not go away on their own after two weeks.

  • Red or white patches in the mouth
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness in the mouth or lips
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • A mouth sore that is not healing
  • A change in your bite alignment

Regular visits can be the first line of defense against oral cancer. Schedule your routine checkup with Premier Dental today!