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Oral Cancer – Part 2 What are the risk factors for oral cancer?

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Research has identified a number of factors that increase the risk of developing oral cancers. Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer than women. Smokers and excessive alcohol drinkers older than 50 are the most at-risk.

The human papilloma virus, which is sexually transmitted, has also been associated with throat cancers at the back of the mouth. HPV-positive head and neck cancers are related to the rise in throat cancers in non-smoking adults. HPV-positive head and neck cancers typically develop in the throat, at the base of the tongue and in the folds of the tonsils, making them difficult to detect. Although people with HPV-positive cancers have a lower risk of dying or having recurrence than those with HPV-negative cancers, early diagnosis is associated with the best outcomes. Regular dental check-ups, that include an examination of the entire head and neck, can be vital in detecting cancer early.

How Can We Help Detect Oral Cancer Early?

During your regular exam, we will ask you about changes in your medical history and whether you’ve been having any new or unusual symptoms.

Then, we will check your oral cavity. This includes your lips, cheek lining, gums, the front part of your tongue, the floor of your mouth and the roof of your mouth. We will also examine your throat (pharynx) at the soft part at the roof of your mouth, including your tonsils, the back section of your tongue and where your tongue attaches to the bottom of your mouth. We will then feel your jaw and neck for any lumps or abnormalities.

What Happens If We Find Something Suspicious?

We won’t be able to tell right away if what we are looking at is cancerous, so we may refer you for testing. We might also re-examine you a week or two later to see if questionable spots are healing on their own, before recommending additional follow-up. Together, we can create the best strategy for diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

What Can I Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?

The most important thing is to be aware of your risk factors. Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer, as they get older. If you smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or have a poor diet, changing these habits can decrease the chances of developing oral cancer.

Certain strains of HPV can also put you at risk. It is recommended that 11 to 12-year-old boys and girls get two doses of HPV vaccine to prevent cervical and other less common genital cancers. It is possible that the HPV vaccine might also prevent head and neck cancers – since the vaccine prevents an initial infection with HPV types that can cause head and neck cancers – but the studies currently underway do not yet have sufficient data to say whether the HPV vaccine will prevent these cancers.

If you have had oral cancer before, you may be more likely to develop it again, so keep up those regular visits.

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