More than 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue each year, with approximately 10,000 people unfortunately dying due to this illness.
Oral cancer occurs when cells within the mouth develop mutations in their DNA. As the mutated cells accumulate, a tumor forms and can spread to other parts of the body.
Though these mutations can occur for unknown causes, there are proven risk factors for oral cancer, including:
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Excessive sun and ultra-violet light exposure
- Weakened immune systems
- Tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, pipes and snuff
In addition to the above risk factors, gender and age also are important considerations. Men are 2x more likely to get oral cancer (this may be the result of increased rates of alcohol and tobacco use by men) and most diagnoses of oral cancer are found in men and women over the age of 55. Proper nutrition is also an important factor, with multiple studies concluding that a diet low in fruits and vegetables is linked with an increased risk of oral cancer.
Still, oral cancer can occur to anyone – even without the above risk factors. When caught early, oral cancer is treatable. If left untreated, however, this type of cancer can lead to serious complications, including reconstructive facial surgery and death. Catching early signs of a potential problem can be as simple as making sure you go for routine check-ups with your dentist. As part of a routine dental examination, your dentist will usually inspect your entire mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate oral cancer or precancerous changes.
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