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Risk Factors


Risk Factors of Mouth Cancer

Doctors cannot always explain why one person develops oral cancer and another does not. However, we do know that this disease is not contagious. You cannot "catch" mouth cancer from another person. Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop mouth cancer. A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease.

Betel Quid Chewing :



The practice of betel quid chewing is established as the more important risk factor for the population that practices it such as in India, Taiwan and Malaysia.


Tabbaco :



Tobacco use accounts for most oral cancers. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; using chewing tobacco; and dipping snuff are all linked to oral cancer. The use of other tobacco products (such as bidis and kreteks) may also increase the risk of oral cancer. Heavy smokers who use tobacco for a long time are most at risk. The risk is even higher for tobacco users who drink alcohol heavily. In fact, three out of four oral cancers occur in people who use alcohol, tobacco, or both alcohol and tobacco.


Alcohol :


People who drink alcohol are more likely to develop oral cancer than people who don't drink. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person consumes. The risk increases even more if the person both drinks alcohol and uses tobacco.

Diet :

Apart from the habitual risk factors mentioned above, lifestyle factors such as diet also play a role. Studies have shown that frequent consumption of antioxidant-rich food sources such as vegetables and fruits help in the prevention of oral cancer.


Sun :

Cancer of the lip can be caused by exposure to the sun. Using a lotion or lip balm that has a sunscreen can reduce the risk. Wearing a hat with a brim can also block the sun's harmful rays. The risk of cancer of the lip increases if the person also smokes.


A personal history of head and neck cancer :

People who have had head and neck cancer are at increased risk of developing another primary head and neck cancer. Smoking increases this risk.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV):

Human Papillomavirus: The most dangerous HPV's, 16 and 18, are transmitted through sexual contact. These HPV's can produce two kinds of abnormal tissues, condyloma tissue and dysplasia tissue.

  • Although tobacco and alcohol are responsible for most oral cancers, physicians are reporting an increase in the disease in patients with little or no history of smoking or drinking. Some of these cancers contain the human papillomavirus (HPV), most especially HPV16, a sexually transmitted member of the papillomavirus family linked to about half of all cases of cervical cancer.
  • A study done by Dr. No-Hee Park showed that the mouth was, at the cellular level, structurally very similar to the vagina and cervix. Both organs have the same type of epithelial cells that are the target of HPV 16.
  • More recent work seems to indicate that the relationships between tobacco alcohol and HPV are additive in their effect as opposed to synergistic. This means that one factor alone (tobacco OR HPV) can be enough to begin the cascade of cellular events that culminate in a cancerous cell

 If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss this concern with your doctor or dentist. You may want to ask about an appropriate schedule for checkups. Your health care team will probably tell you that not using tobacco and limiting your use of alcohol are the most important things you can do to prevent oral cancers. Also, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, using a lip balm that contains sunscreen and wearing a hat with a brim will help protect your lips.

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