When most people think “cancer”, they think lung, breast, brain, or skin cancer. But did you know around 53,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year?
Categorized as a head and neck cancer, this includes cancer that affects the mouth and/or throat. And while it’s not as common as the cancers noted above, it is often deadly due to late-stage discovery. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the higher probability of curing it.
Anyone can develop oral cancer, and not all cases can be prevented. But there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk.
Smoking or chewing tobacco dramatically increases your risk of oral cancer. Studies have shown that most people who are diagnosed with mouth or throat cancer have used or currently use tobacco products. The exact risk is related to how much you use and how long you have used them.
Your best defense for eliminating this risk factor is to never start smoking, but if you already do, quit as soon as possible. The quicker you quit, the lesser your risk — even after many years of use.
For help and support, the American Cancer Society offers many different resources for people looking to quit smoking or using tobacco.
Cut Back on Alcohol
Heavy alcohol use also increases your risk of developing cancer in the mouth or throat. About 7 out of 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. When combined with smoking, some research shows that risk of oral cancer may be as much as 100 times higher than the risk in people who don’t smoke or drink.
Avoid HPV Infection
There are more than 150 types of human papillomavirus (HPV). One in particular — HPV16 — causes throat cancer. Unfortunately, people with this type of HPV often do not show any symptoms, and there is no current HPV16 test approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
People who are more likely to develop HPV16 are those who have oral sex and multiple sex partners. People who smoke are also at increased risk, since smoking damages the immune system and the body’s ability to fight infection.
Wear Sunscreen and Limit Ultraviolet (UV) Exposure
Cancers affecting the lips are more common among people who work outdoors. Sunlight and frequent sunburns on or around the mouth can increase risk of developing cancer on the lips. If you work outdoors, you can lower this risk by wearing chapstick with built-in SPF (opt for at least 30 SPF, which blocks 97% of UVB rays) or applying sunscreen to your face and lips.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
An apple a day keeps the oral cancer away? There may be some truth to that. Multiple studies have found that people with diets low in fruits and vegetables have an increased risk of mouth and throat cancers. One easy way to lower your risk is to eat the recommended amount of fruit and veggies each day — 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit, and 2 to 2-1/2 cups of vegetables, depending on age and gender.
Taking a proactive approach to your oral health is always a smart idea. With the five steps above, you can improve your lifestyle to lower your risk of developing mouth or throat cancers.
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