16 Nov Mouth Cancer Action Month: What are the Risk Factors?
At Bridgeways Dental we are committed to supporting the local community in Southampton and surrounding areas of Hampshire and the New Forest. November is “Mouth Cancer Action Month” hosted by the Oral Health Foundation. Aiming to raise awareness of mouth cancer and attempting to improve the numbers of mouth cancers diagnosed in their earliest stages.
This blog is Part Two of a Three Part series on Mouth Cancer Action Month. Part One has information on the prevalence of mouth cancer in the UK and proposed our commitment to help early detection and diagnosis in our local community by offering free oral cancer screening during November. Part Three is dedicated to the signs and symptoms to help educate the population and increase awareness.
What Causes Mouth Cancer?
We do not know what the cause for most cancers is, however it is estimated that half of mouth cancers are linked to personal lifestyle choices. This is great news, as it means that there are things you can do to reduce your risk. If some of these apply to you, it does not mean that you will develop mouth cancer.
Two-thirds of mouth cancers are linked to smoking, and smoking tobacco including pipes and cigars is thought to increase your risk by tenfold. Passive smoking and second-hand smoke is also thought to increase your risk, or that of those around you. Smokeless and chewing tobacco are also high risk factors.
What you can do: Cut down or quit smoking as soon as you are able. Seek help or advice from your health professionals, including the NHS SmokeFree service.
Excessive alcohol consumption increases mouth cancer risk. Smoking and drinking alcohol together increases the risk by 30 times, around 30% of mouth cancers are linked to drinking alcohol.
What you can do: Make sure to monitor your alcohol intake and stay within the guidelines of no more than 14 units per week. Swap to alcohol-free or low-alcohol alternatives where possible.
Sunlight and sunbeds contain harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can lead to skin cancers on the lips and areas around the mouth.
What you can do: Avoid using sunbeds, and always use a lip balm containing high SPF sunscreen whilst in the sun.
Unhealthy dietary choices and a lack of sufficient vitamins and minerals has been linked to around one third of mouth cancers.
What you can do: Cook fresh food wherever possible and maintain a balanced and healthy diet, rich in vitamins, minerals including Omega-3 and fibre.
Having received a lot of publicity in recent years, the human pappiloma virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer has been linked to an increase in mouth cancer as it can be spread by oral sex.
What you can do: Always practice safe sex, and limit the number of sexual partners you have. See a sexual health clinic for advice if you need more information. There is a HPV vaccination now available to young girls and boys, which will be given at the age of around 12 years.
Previous History of Cancer
If you have previously been diagnosed with mouth cancer, you are at a higher risk of developing it again. Some other cancers are also linked to a higher risk of mouth cancer.
What you can do: Attend all follow-up appointments suggested by your consultants and health professionals, do your best to improve your lifestyle to reduce risk factors, and also be “mouth aware”, look for any changes or persistent ulcers.
Genetics and your Immune System
If you have had a close family member suffer with mouth cancer, you will have a slightly increased risk. There are also some other genetic conditions which affect your risk. Some medications which affect the immune system (such as those for HIV/AIDS) can increase your risk too.
What you can do: Be on the look out for signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, and discuss with your healthcare professionals your personal risk.