Choices Family Medical


Oral cancer could happen to you. Here’s how to prevent it.


In the United States, a person dies from oral cancer ever hour of every day. The statistic is staggering. To add to the figure, roughly 50,000 people are diagnosed with the disease annually in the U.S.

“Historically the death rate associated with oral cancer has been particularly high not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but because it is routinely discovered late in the development, said Dr. Kent Beesley with Grand Peak Medical and Dental.

Oral cancer consists of anything in the oral cavity, including the lips, cheeks, tongue, soft palate, tonsils, and throat.

Of newly diagnosed patients, only about 60 percent will live longer than five years. The death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high because it is typically discovered late in its development.

However, the key to dealing with this type of cancer is early detection and awareness.

“Regular dental checkups are important not only for the health of an individual’s teeth, but also as a screening opportunity for these types of cancers,” said Beesley.

Regular dentist visits can detect oral cancer early, and changing a few habits can reduce the risk of even developing the cancer.

Five tips to prevent oral cancer

  • Avoid tobacco. Smoking or chewing tobacco increases your risk of oral cancer significantly. Not only does smoking cause oral cancer, but it can also cause cancer in other parts of the body. Even smokeless tobacco, like chew, can lead to cancer of the cheeks, gums, and lips.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. About 7 out of 10 oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers, according to American Cancer Society. Your chances of developing oral cancer increase greatly if you are a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. In fact, people who have more than 3.5 drinks per day increase their risk of oral cancers two to three times, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Get vaccinated. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with a lot of oral cancer cases that occur at the back of tongue or around the tonsils, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are diagnosed with HPV related cancers tend to be younger and nonsmokers. The best way to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated before you become sexually active.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Individuals who have jobs working in the sunlight are more likely to develop lip cancer. It’s important to use UV protection, limit sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and always wear a lip balm with SPF when you’re outside.
  • Eat healthy. Poor nutrition can also put you at a higher risk for developing oral cancer. It’s important to have plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Ben Nguyen