November is Mouth Cancer Awareness Month. Mouth Cancer Action helps raise awareness of this disease that killed over 2,700 people in the UK last year. Because life-style choices can increase our chances of developing mouth cancer, this month is a special reminder to assess our habits, and reduce our mouth cancer risk.
And don’t forget to check for changes in your mouth, face and neck. Did you know that 34% of mouth cancers are on the tongue?
Are you concerned about yourself? Or do you care for others? Perhaps you have some impressionable teenagers in your home? Here are five risk factors, and one tip that could make a difference to your general health, and mouth cancer susceptibility if you take action.
Tobacco is highest risk
The leading cause of mouth cancer, tobacco transforms saliva into a ‘deadly cocktail’ that damages cells in the mouth and turns them cancerous.
Smoking tobacco, whether cigarettes, cigars, or in a pipe, can be fatal. It increases your risk of developing mouth cancer by up to ten times, compared to people who have never smoked. Over 60% of mouth cancer victims smoke tobacco.
Research also shows that inhaling second-hand smoke increases risk of developing mouth cancer.
Alcohol is risky too, especially combined with smoking
Excessive use of alcohol causes a third of mouth cancer cases in men, and a fifth in women. Heavy drinkers who also smoke are at huge risk – about 30 times more.
UK guidelines recommend a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women
The world’s most common sexually transmitted virus (HPV) is increasingly the cause of mouth cancer cases. Research suggests it will soon take over from tobacco as the leading cause of the disease in the younger population.
The government approved an HPV vaccination programme in schools for boys as well as girls. The vaccine used to protect girls against cervical cancer will also help to reduce the rates of mouth cancer. This academic year (2019-2020) the vaccination programme for boys is being rolled out. If in doubt, ask your GP what the situation is in your area.
Practicing safe sex and limiting the number of partners helps reduce the risk of contracting HPV.
Chewing or smokeless tobacco risks are underestimated
Using tobacco products in the mouth or nose that are not burned is also risky.
Although some people believe this type of tobacco is safer than smoking. Yet the more someone chews tobacco, the more likely they are to develop white-grey patches called leukoplakia that can become cancerous.
Chewing tobacco also carries a high risk of gum disease and subsequent tooth loss.
Vaping not worth the risk
Vaping was promoted as a better alternative to smoking – a good way to quit. In general it still is considered less risky, but serious concerns are regularly reported in the media these days. As it is still relatively new, there is not the data to support or refute claims, or assess potential mouth cancer risks.
Diet could decrease your mouth cancer risk
Research is showing that a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.
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 also said to do the same.
Are you at risk? Are you worried about mouth cancer?
This month is a reminder. It’s important to take action to reduce your mouth cancer risk. It’s also important to check your mouth and neck regularly for lumps, unusual patches or swellings.
If you have a worry or concern, please contact your GP or health care provider. You may also contact your nearest SpaDental practice for a private priority appointment.