Tobacco use is by far the most common risk factor for cancers of the mouth and
throat. Both smoking and “smokeless” tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco)
increase the risk of developing
Cancer in the mouth or throat.
All forms of smoking are linked to these
Cancer, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Tobacco smoke can
Cancer anywhere in the mouth and throat as well as in the lungs, the
bladder, and many other organs in the body. Pipe smoking is particularly linked
with lesions of the lips, where the pipe comes in contact with the tissue.
Smokeless tobacco is linked with
Cancer of the cheeks, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Cancers
caused by smokeless tobacco use often begin as leukoplakia or erythroplakia.
Other risk factors for mouth and throat
Cancer include the following:
Alcohol use: At least three quarters of people who have a mouth and throat
Cancer consume alcohol frequently. People who drink alcohol
frequently are 6 times more likely to develop one of these cancers. People who
both drink alcohol and smoke often have a much higher risk than people who use
only tobacco alone.
Ultraviolet light exposure: People who spend a lot of time in sunlight, such as
those who work outdoors, are more likely to have cancer of the lip.
Chewing betel nut, a prevalent practice in India and other parts of South Asia,
has been found to result in mucosa carcinoma of the cheeks. Mucosa carcinoma
accounts for less than 10% of oral cavity
Cancer in the United States but is the most common oral cavity cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: Several strains of HPV are associated with
cancers of the cervix ,
vulva, and penis. The link between HPV and oral cancers is not known, but HPV
infection is believed to increase the risk of oral cancers in some people.
These are risk factors that can be avoided in some cases. For example, you can
choose to not smoke, thus lowering your risk of mouth and throat cancer. The
following risk factors are outside of your control:
The relationship between these risk factors and an individual's risk is not well
understood. Many people who have no risk factors develop mouth and throat
cancer. Conversely, many people with several risk factors do not. In large
groups of people, these factors are linked with higher incidence of
If you have any of the symptoms of head and neck cancer, make an appointment to
see your primary care provider or your dentist right away.
After surgery, you will see your surgeon, radiation oncologist, or both if you
received chemotherapy. You will also follow-up with your medical oncologist.
You will also continue to see your medical oncologist according to a schedule he
or she will recommend.
Speech and swallowing therapy will continue for as long as needed to restore
The best way to prevent head and neck cancer is to avoid the risk factors.
Ask your dentist or primary care provider to check your oral cavity and pharynx
regularly to look for precancerous lesions and other abnormalities. Report any
symptoms such as persistent pain, hoarseness,
bleeding , or
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