There are multiple lifestyle factors that increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Many of these factors are a part of the everyday lives of many Australians. Alcohol and tobacco use are major risk factors for oral cancer development as they introduce cancer-causing material (known as carcinogens) into the mouth. The use of alcohol and tobacco together greatly increase risk of oral cancer.
Risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma development in the mouth include:
- Older age
- Male gender
- Smoking or tobacco use
- Areca nut (betel quid) chewing
- Alcohol use
- Infection by viruses, for example the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Family history
- History of cancer therapy
- Long term immunosuppression
Cigarette smoking and tobacco use
Any kind of smoking including vaping, cigarette smoking, cigars, marijuana and any other inhalation habit where you burn the throat increases your risk of oral cancer. The best prevention is quitting. Your dentist can provide advice on strategies to help you quit smoking.
Alcohol consumption at all levels carries with it some level of inherit risk. The Australian Guidelines for Alcohol Intake recommend no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce your risk of alcohol-related diseases. Cancer risk increases with long-term consumption of alcohol rather than the amount consumed each time you drink. Even light drinking (defined as one drink/day) has been associated with oral cancers. The regular use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes is safe and have not been shown to increase risk of oral cancer.
Exposure to, and transmission of, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) through oral sex increases the risk of developing oral cancer, particularly oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. HPV can affect both males and females. Participating in oral sex always carries the risk of sexually transmitted diseases including HPV. It is best to take precautions and practice safe sex.
Vaccinations against HPV are available for males and females (Gardasil and Cervarix). Contact your doctor, local immunisation provider or visit www.hpvvaccine.org.au for more information.
The skin on your lips can be easily damaged by sun exposure. Protect your lips from harmful UV rays when out in the sun by applying a minimum of SPF15+ lip balm. As well wear a hat and sunscreen. If you work outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA and UVB) to your lips and face throughout the day to stay protected.
For more information on how to reduce your risk, visit the Cancer Council Australia website.
A poor diet increases the risk of oral cancer by depriving your body of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. This doesn't just mean cutting out junk foods but ensuring you drink plenty of water and have a healthy diet filled with fresh fruit and vegetables. Consult your doctor, dentist or dietician for dietary advice.