According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 21,000 men and 9,000 women are diagnosed with oral cancer in the U.S. each year. Mouth and throat cancer together claim nearly 8,000 American lives annually. While oral cancer can affect anyone there are ways to decrease your risk for oral cancer. Many of the factors that cause oral cancer are preventable.
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer refers to a cancer that develops in the mouth, lips, or throat. While anyone can develop oral cancer, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women. Oral cancer is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 40.
The 5-year survival rate for these cancers is 52%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the reasons for the poor survival rate of oral cancer is that mouth and throat cancers are often discovered late in their development.
Early detection – when the cancer is still in its early, treatable stages – greatly increases the survival rate.
What causes oral cancer?
Smoking, smokeless tobacco, and alcohol all increase the risk for throat and mouth cancers. Tobacco and alcohol use account for almost 75% of all mouth and throat cancer cases in the U.S. However, the fastest growing causes of oral and throat cancers is the human papilloma virus.
Human papilloma virus – the most common sexually transmitted infection – is linked with oropharyngeal cancer. It’s unclear whether HPV causes oral cancer, or if HPV interacts with other risk factors to cause oral cancer. It is clear, however, that the HPV virus increases your risk for oral cancer. According to the American Association of Oral and Malliofacial Surgeons, you’re 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer if you have HPV.
Ways to reduce your risk for oral cancer
Most of the risk factors for oral cancer are preventable. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can help decrease your risk for throat and mouth cancer.
- Do not smoke.
- Do not use smokeless tobacco products.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Use sun protection such as hats, sunscreen, and lip balm.
- Eat a healthy diet. An absence of fruits and vegetables from a person’s diet has been linked with increased risk for oral cancer.
- Vaccinate for HPV. The CDC recommends that both males and females ages 11-12 get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against the virus and cancers caused by HPV.