Oral cancer can affect anyone. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, approximately 54,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. Of those, only about 57% will still be alive in 5 years. While the survival rate is increasing, it’s still important to know how to get oral cancer to catch it early and increase your chances of beating it.
Smoking is by far the most significant risk factor for developing oral cancer. In fact, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, tobacco use is responsible for about 75% of all cases of oral cancer. Therefore, if you smoke cigarettes or cigars or use tobacco products, you are at a much higher risk of developing oral cancer.
Drinking alcohol also increases your risk of developing oral cancer. The more alcohol you drink and the longer you’ve been drinking, the greater your risk becomes. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, people who drink heavily are three times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t drink.
You might not think of UV exposure as a risk factor for developing oral cancer, but it is. If you spend a lot of time outdoors without wearing proper sun protection, you are putting yourself at risk. The lips are especially vulnerable to UV damage since they don’t have melanin to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays.
HPV Infection and Bacterial Infection
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. There are many strains of HPV, some of which can cause cancer. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, HPV is responsible for many new cases of oropharyngeal cancer in the U.S., and the incidence of HPV-related oral cancers is increasing yearly.
Bacterial infections can also increase the risk of oral cancer, mainly caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is linked to stomach cancer. Additionally, periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, may increase oral cancer risk.
Eating a diet high in processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables can also increase your risk of developing oral cancer. In addition, a diet high in sugar can promote inflammation and lead to cell damage, while a diet low in antioxidants can make it difficult for your body to fight off infection and repair cell damage.
Oral cancer can be caused by various things, some of which are within your control and others that are not. Thankfully, you can prevent oral cancer by directly handling these things. Here are some ways you can do that.
Reduce Chances of Infection
Bacterial and viral infections are the leading cause of oral cancer, so reducing your chances of infection is a great way to prevent it. Here are ways you can do that:
An exposed gum can be home to various bacteria and viruses. This can then lead to gum disease, which then leads to periodontitis. When periodontitis gets severe, it can lead to oral cancer. Getting dental implants is one way to keep your gums safe from infections. These implants are made of titanium, which fuses with your jawbone to create a secure foundation for the artificial tooth. This eliminates any exposed gums, keeping them safe from infection.
Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
Proper oral hygiene is essential in preventing infection and promoting overall oral health. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss daily, and visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.
Quit Smoking and Limit Alcohol Intake
Smoking and alcohol use are both significant risk factors for oral cancer. However, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake can significantly reduce your chances of developing oral cancer. You can do this by taking nicotine replacement therapy, attending support groups or counseling, and finding alternative ways to cope with stress. As for alcohol, try to limit yourself to one drink a day or cut back on drinking altogether.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables can lower your risk of oral cancer by providing essential nutrients and antioxidants that can help your body fight infection and repair cell damage.
Wear Sun Protection
Protecting your lips from UV exposure is essential in preventing oral cancer. This can be as simple as wearing a lip balm with SPF or wearing a wide-brimmed hat outdoors.
The best way to prevent oral cancer is by taking care of yourself and reducing any risk factors you have control over. Remember to also visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. By accepting these precautions, you can significantly lower your risk for oral cancer.