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Oral cancer – the risk factors

oral cancer mouthOral cancer (cancer located in the mouth, tongue or throat) is a cancer form which is often overlooked. Nonetheless, this form of cancer is the largest group within the cancers in the head and neck region. It is also a form of cancer which is on the increase. Knowledge about the risk factors that might lead to oral cancer is essential in order to prevent and fight this serious disease. This article will list the factors that are most commonly accepted as risk factors for developing oral cancer:


Smoking is a leading risk factor for developing oral cancer. The use of tobacco affects and causes changes in all of the cells that are exposed to the smoke. Both the entire oral cavity, lungs and larynx are therefore at risk of developing cancer.

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco in the form of chewing or spit tobacco has in some places been advocated as a low-risk form of tobacco use because it does not cause lung cancer. But when it comes to oral cancer, the risk of developing cancer is not less. To the contrary, smokeless tobacco has been identified as a risk factor in developing oral cancer as well as pancreatic cancer as well as several other oral diseases.


Alcohol abuse (defined as more than 21 standard drinks in one week) is a large risk factor for developing oral cancer. When alcohol abuse is combined with tobacco, the risk of developing oral cancer increases by 15 times. It seems that alcohol and tobacco works together synergistically in the development of cancer, possibly because the alcohol weakens the cells’ natural defense system against the effects of tobacco.


The human papilloma virus, especially version 16, is a sexually transmitted virus which has recently been proved to be a risk factor for developing oral cancer. It might even be replacing tobacco as the main causative agent for developing oral cancer in patients under the age of 50.


Ultraviolet light (e.g. from excessive exposure to sunlight) is a risk factor in the development of lip cancer. With the increase in knowledge of the damaging effects of excessive sunbathing, this form of cancer is on the decrease. X-rays are another source of radiation. The small doses of x-rays used in the dental clinic normally do not pose a risk. It is worth to remember, though, that radiation exposure is accumulative over a lifetime and should not be taken too lightly.


Some studies indicate that a diet low on vegetables and fruit might be a risk factor in developing oral cancer. In contrast a diet rich on fruit and vegetables may offer protection against many types of cancer.

You can read more facts about oral cancer on

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