Oral cancer: these factors that increase the risk


Oral cancer is cancer that develops in one of the parts that make up the mouth (oral cavity). Oral cancer can occur on:



inner cheeks


Floor of the mouth (under the tongue)

The cancer that occurs inside the mouth is sometimes called cancer of the oral cavity. It is one of many types of cancer grouped into a category called “head and neck cancers”. Oral cancer and other cancers of the head and neck are often treated the same.

Symptoms of oral cancer

Signs and symptoms of oral cancer may include:

A lip or mouth sore that does not heal

A white or reddish spot inside the mouth

Loose teeth

A growth or lump on the ‘inside the mouth

Pain in the mouth

Pain in the ear

Difficult or painful swallowing

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have any signs and persistent symptoms that bother you and that last more than two weeks. Your doctor will probably first look at other more common causes of your signs and symptoms, such as an infection.

Causes of oral cancer

Oral cancers are formed when cells on the lips or in the mouth develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. The DNA of a cell contains the instructions that tell the cell what to do. Mutations tell cells to keep growing and dividing while healthy cells die. Abnormal cancer cells in the mouth that accumulate can form a tumor.

Over time, they can spread inside the mouth and to other areas of the head and neck or other parts of the body. Oral cancers most often start in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that line the lips and the inside of the mouth. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. It is not known exactly what causes the mutations in squamous cells that lead to oral cancer. But doctors have identified factors that may increase the risk of oral cancer.

Oral cancer risk factors

Some of the factors that may increase your risk of oral cancer include:

– The consumption of tobacco in all its forms, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, among others

-Heavy alcohol consumption

-Excessive exposure of lips to sun

-A sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)

-A weakened immune system

Prevention of oral cancer

There is no proven way to prevent oral cancer. However, you can lower your risk of oral cancer if you:

Stop smoking or don’t start

If you use tobacco, stop. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous chemicals that cause cancer.

Don’t drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all

Chronic excessive alcohol consumption can irritate the cells in the mouth and make them vulnerable to oral cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink per day for women of all ages and men over 30 year. And up to two drinks per day for men 65 years and under.

Avoid excessive exposure of your lips to the sun

Protect the skin of your lips from the sun by staying in the shade when it is possible. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that effectively shades your entire face, including your mouth. Apply sunscreen to the lips as part of your usual sun protection regimen.

Visit your dentist regularly

As part of a routine dental exam, have your dentist inspect your entire mouth for abnormal areas that could indicate oral cancer or precancerous changes.

Alternative medicine for better treatment

No complementary or alternative medicine treatment can cure oral cancer. But complementary and alternative medicine treatments can help you cope with oral cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue.

Many people who are on cancer treatment feel tired. Your doctor can treat the underlying causes of fatigue, but feelings of being completely exhausted can persist despite treatment. Complementary therapies can help you cope with fatigue.


Try to exercise gently for 29 minutes most days of the week. Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, during and after cancer treatment, reduces fatigue. Talk to your doctor before you start exercising to make sure it is safe for you.

Massage therapy

During a massage, a massage therapist uses his hands to apply pressure to your skin and muscles. Some massage therapists are specially trained to work with people with cancer.


Activities that help you to relax can help you cope. Try listening to music or writing in a journal.


During a acupuncture session, a qualified practitioner inserts fine needles in specific places on your body. Some acupuncturists are specially trained to work with people with cancer. Ask your doctor to recommend an acupuncturist they know near you, or ask for a quality acupuncturist around you. Word of mouth is often the best way to find a good address.

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