What are the risk factors for oral cavity cancer?
A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. Having risk factors, however, does not necessarily mean you will get cancer, so it’s important to know your own personal risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Although the effects of oral cavity cancer can be significant, especially when not detected or diagnosed early, the disease is highly treatable – and even sometimes preventable – which is why it’s important to know your risk factors.
Oral cavity cancer is more than twice as common in men than in women. As people age, however, they may be more susceptible to oral cavity cancer.
About one-quarter of patients who develop oral cavity cancer are younger than age 55, but children are rarely diagnosed with the disease.
Some of the greatest risk factors for oral cancer include:
- Tobacco use
- Heavy alcohol use
- Exposure to natural sunlight or artificial light (such as by using tanning beds) over long periods of time
Other risk factors include:
- Being a male
- Being 60 years old or older
- Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Having a weakened immune system
Oral cavity cancer is highly preventable, and by minimizing your risk factors, you may lower your risk of contracting the disease.
Preventing oral cavity cancers often involves changing lifestyle behaviors. This includes avoiding tobacco use in any form, limiting alcohol consumption and closely monitoring and limiting sun exposure – especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when ultraviolet (UV) rays are the strongest. Also, when in the sun, it’s important to use a lip balm with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher and reapply frequently.
It is also important to visit your primary care physician for regular check-ups and your dentist for regular and complete oral examinations, because not every patient exhibits signs or symptoms.
As with any type of cancer prevention, Miami Cancer Institute’s specialists recommend knowing and understanding your risk factors.