We don’t know what causes most mouth cancers. However, there are several factors that are likely to increase your risk.
Up to 90% of all mouth cancers are linked to lifestyle factors.
This means that with a few small changes, you can help cut your chances of developing mouth cancer.
If you do not stop or reduce the things that might put you at greater risk, it is important that you self check at home and regularly visit your dentist.
The below causes are linked to mouth cancer.
Smoking tobacco increases your risk of developing mouth cancer by up to ten times. This includes smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars. It is not known if vaping has the same effect but trials are being taken on this.
60% of all mouth cancers are linked to smoking.
There is also evidence that passive smoking at home or in the workplace may increase a person’s risk of mouth cancer.
Drinking alcohol to excess increases your risk of mouth cancer. Alcohol is linked to just under 30% of all mouth cancers.
Smoking and drinking in tandem trebles mouth cancer risk.
UK guidelines recommend a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women.
Many recent reports have linked mouth cancer to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer and affects the skin that lines the moist areas of the body. HPV can be spread through oral sex, and research suggests that it could soon rival smoking and drinking as one of the main causes of mouth cancer.
Practicing safe sex and limiting the number of partners you have may help reduce your chances of contracting HPV.
There are now HPV vaccines for both girls and boys. They were developed to fight cervical cancer, but it is likely that they will also help to reduce the rates of mouth cancer.
Chewing and smokeless tobacco
Smokeless tobacco is any tobacco product that is placed in the mouth or nose and not burned.
Chewing and smokeless tobacco is extremely harmful and can significantly increase the risk of being diagnosed with mouth cancer.
The types of smokeless tobacco products most used contain a mix of ingredients including slaked lime, areca nut and spices, flavourings and sweeteners.
The terminology for smokeless tobacco varies, but the main types used in the UK include:
- Gutka, Khaini, Pan Masala (betel quid), Shammah and Maras powder (these are sucked or chewed);
- Zarda, Qiwam, or Mawa (chewed);
- Lal dantmanjan, Gadakhu, Gul, Mishri, or Creamy Snuff (dental products which are used as toothpaste or rubbed on gums);
- Nass (can be used nasally, sucked or chewed).
Smokeless tobacco is often popular with South Asian communities.
Around a third of mouth cancers are thought to be linked to an unhealthy diet and a lack of vitamins and minerals.
It is recommended that you eat a healthy, balanced diet including lots of fruit and vegetables each day.
Increasing evidence also suggests that Omega 3, found in foods such as eggs and fish, can help lower your risk. Foods high in fibre such as nuts, seeds, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice are advised.
Sunlight and sunbeds
Too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a known cause of skin cancer. This can occur either from natural sunlight or sunbeds.
Skin cancer can develop on the lips – as this area is often exposed to UV radiation. Sunblock , lip balm with block are essential especially for those with fair skin.
Those who have had a mouth cancer are at greater risk of developing it again.
There are also other cancers which can mean a person is more likely to get mouth cancer. These include:
- Oesophagus cancer (of the food pipe)
- Squamous cell skin cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Penile cancer
- Anal cancer
Family history, genetics and the immune system
Although we do not know why, there is a slight increase in risk of mouth cancer if you have a close relative diagnosed with the disease.
Mouth cancer can also be more likely for those who carry certain inherited genes. Links have been found for those with genetic conditions affecting the bone marrow, skin or fingernails.
It is essential that regular screening of mouth cancer is undertaken. This will be at your regular dental examination or also done at home. On our next blog, we will discuss how to self check and what we check for at Progressive Dentistry.