Cancer is one of the most common causes of morbidity and mortality today. There are more than 100 types of cancer, and though it is a genetic disease, many environmental factors may contribute to an increased risk of cancer. 

On the occasion of World Cancer Day on February 4, 2022, let's learn more about oral cancer. 

Oral cancer is the uncontrolled growth and invasion of cells anywhere in the mouth or oral cavity. It includes cancer of the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, roof and floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat. Though it affects both men and women, men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer. 

Causes of Oral Cancer

As with other types of cancer, there is no single cause for oral cancer. The interaction of genetic, environmental, and individual factors is believed to result in oral cancer.

There are several factors though, that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Let’s have a look at these risk factors. 

Risk Factors of Oral Cancer

1. Tobacco: Tobacco consumption continues to prevail as the most important oral cancer risk factor, as it alone accounts for millions of cancer deaths annually across the globe. 

This comprises tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, and chewing tobacco.

2. Betel Quid: Chewing of betel quid with different ingredients is a common habit in Southeast Asia, especially in the Indian subcontinent and is linked to a higher risk of oral cancer. 

Some of the common forms of these mixtures are khaini (tobacco and lime), mishri (roasted tobacco), gudakhu (tobacco, molasses, lime, and red soil), and gutkha (tobacco, lime, catechu, and areca nut). 

3. Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages have been considered carcinogenic to humans, causing in particular, tumours of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and liver.

Alcohol consumption has been shown to act synergistically with tobacco use in the increased risk of the development of oral cancer. 

4. HPV Infection: Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus group, includes about 200 viruses. HPV, and specifically the HPV 16 type, is a risk factor for oral cancer. 

HPV infections in the mouth do not usually produce symptoms, and a small percentage of these infections develop into oral cancer.

5. Weakened Immune System: Individuals with a weakened immune system are more prone to developing oral cancers. 

Further, taking drugs that suppress the immune system, such as those used to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ or to treat immune diseases, may also increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

6. Prolonged Sun Exposure: Excessive exposure to the sun, and thus to UV light, especially at a young age, has been linked to cancer of the lip. 

This is why cancer of the lip is more common among those who spend a lot of time outdoors, exposed to sunlight without sun protection measures. 

7. A Family History of Cancer: Cancer is caused due to genetic changes, but most cancers are not inherited. Some people may have an increased risk of particular cancer types if they inherited a faulty gene. 

If anyone in your family had cancer, particularly oral cancer, you may be at an increased risk of developing oral cancer. You are also at an increased risk of oral cancer if you have a history of any type of cancer. 

Early detection of oral cancer can improve the chances of successful treatment. So, conduct a self-examination of your mouth once a month and visit your dentist regularly. Ask your dentist to check your mouth carefully for early signs of oral cancer. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.