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April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, so we at Somerset Family Dental want to help you better understand this deadly disease. This year, nearly 50,000 people will be diagnosed with some kind of oral or pharyngeal cancer, and nearly 20% of them will die. As with other cancers, early discovery and treatment are best, and there are some common risk factors associated with the development of oral cancer.

Lifestyle – Choices in lifestyle are the biggest cause of oral cancer, and lifestyle changes can be one of the best things you can do to prevent its development. One factor is tobacco use. Historically, more than three quarters of people over 50 diagnosed with oral cancer have also been tobacco users. And that doesn’t just mean smoking. While smokeless options, such as chewing tobacco, may reduce the risk of lung cancer, they actually increase the probability of oral cancer. Alcohol consumption is also a risk factor. When paired with tobacco use, risk of development increases many times. People who use both are 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer that people who don’t.

HPV – The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the fastest-growing cause of oral cancer, and the largest among non-smokers under 40. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus with over 200 strains, most of which are harmless. But those with a lack of immune response to the cancer-causing HPV16 strain (about 1% of those infected) have an increased risk of developing oral cancer.

There are other factors, such as diet and other diseases, but their causative role is disputed. Oral cancer, like any, is complicated, but knowing risk factors can help you make informed choices. For more information about oral cancer, please call our Gilbert, AZ, office today.