How to Outsmart Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can have many causes, including genetics, lifestyle factors such as smoking or heavy alcohol use, infections, or environmental exposures like excess sun. Although you cant control the genes you inherit, you do have control over lifestyle choices and sun exposure.1 In honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, take a few minutes to find out if youre at increased risk, whether its due to lifestyle choices or heredity factors you cant control, and what you can do to help prevent getting the disease. People with an increased risk include:

  1. Tobacco users. At least 75 percent of all people who get oral cancer use some form of tobacco. It doesnt matter if its cigarettes, pipes, cigars or chewing tobacco the longer youve used tobacco products, the greater your risk.1 Consider quitting or cutting back use of these products.
  2. Habitual tanners or anyone with a Mother Nature-loving lifestyle. 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.2 Though we tend to associate SPF with sunscreen, its just as important to make sure your lip balm contains the sun-blocking substance as well.2 Lip cancers are caused primarily by excess sun exposure.
  3. People who drink excessively. Moderate alcohol consumption doesnt necessarily put you at risk, but consistently overdoing it has been linked to disease.1 Between 75 and 80 percent of oral cancer patients say they drink alcohol often. The more you drink, the greater the risk.2
  4. Beware of human papillomaviruses (HPV). Currently, 20 to 30 percent of all oral cancer is associated with an HPV infection, the most common sexually transmitted infection.2 Educate yourself on how HPV is transmitted and take steps to keep yourself protected.

Oral cancer risk factors you cant control include age, gender, race and heredity. Increased risk factors include being ages 45 or older, male, African American and/or having a family history of oral cancer.1 If you have hereditary risks, it is even more important to manage your lifestyle risks. Have a discussion with your physician or dentist if youre concerned that your heredity or lifestyle may have put you at an increased risk for oral cancer.

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