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Ladies and Lesions: Are You at Risk for Oral Cancer?

By Jill Hamilton on May 14, 2013 in Dental Health

Woman getting her dental check up

Oral cancer is an adaptable disease and can have many causes. In honor of Women's Health Week, take a few minutes to find out if you're at an increased risk – whether it's due to lifestyle choices or heredity factors you can't control – and what you can do to help prevent getting the disease.

People with an increased risk include:

1. Tobacco users. At least 75% of all people who get oral cancer use some form of tobacco. It doesn't matter if its cigarettes, pipes, cigars or chewing tobacco – the longer you've used tobacco products, the greater your risk. Consider quitting or cutting back use of these products.

2. Habitual tanners. Trade your time in the tanning bed for time applying UV-free bronzing lotion. If you come by your tan naturally – for instance, if you work outside or enjoy outdoor sports – be sure to stock up on SPF. Another good choice for outdoor lovers – hats. Though we tend to associate SPF with sunscreen, it's just as important to make sure your lip balm contains the sun-blocking substance as well. Lip cancers are caused primarily by excess sun exposure.

3. People who drink excessively. Moderate alcohol consumption doesn't necessarily put you at risk, but consistently overdoing it has been linked to disease. Between 75 and 80% of oral cancer patients say they drink alcohol often. The more you drink, the greater the risk.

4. Beware of human papillomaviruses (HPV). Currently, 20 to 30% of all oral cancer is associated with an HPV infection, the most common sexually transmitted infection. Educate yourself on how HPV is transmitted and take steps to keep yourself protected.
Oral cancer risk factors you can't control include age, gender, race and heredity. Increased risk factors include being 45 years or older, male, African-American and/or having a family history of oral cancer. If you have hereditary risks, it is even more important to manage your lifestyle risks. Have a discussion with your physician or dentist if you're concerned that your heredity or lifestyle may have put you at an increased risk for oral cancer.