Oral Cancer: Resolve to Decrease Your Risk

About 53,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk—for the new year and beyond.

Kiss tobacco goodbye.

Around three-quarters of oral cancer cases in patients older than fifty can be traced back to tobacco use. More than any other factor, kicking the tobacco habit (chewing tobacco as well as cigarettes) will have the greatest impact on your prospects of avoiding oral cancer. As a bonus, living tobacco-free also reduces your risk of heart disease and emphysema, as well as cancers of the lung, bladder, digestive system and pancreas.

Put a lid on your alcohol intake.

Only drinking alcohol in moderation is an important part of preventing all types of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, regularly exceeding more than one drink for women and two drinks for men is considered a risky level of consumption.

Binge drinking further increases your risk. Using tobacco while drinking alcohol is even more dangerous. People who smoke and drink together are fifteen times more likely to develop cancer in their lifetime than those who do neither.

Guard your lips against dangerous UV rays.

While most people are aware of the risk of melanoma that comes with not wearing sunscreen, many don’t realize how important it is to protect your lips. Over time, sun damage to your lips and mouth can lead to oral cancer. Reduce your risk by: applying UV protection to your lips; wearing a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face; and minimizing sun exposure, especially during the peak midday hours.

Brush and floss regularly.

Maintaining proper oral hygiene removes bacteria that can cause damage to your teeth, gums and bone. Left untreated, simpler oral disease can escalate to more serious concerns, including cancer.

Invest in a healthy lifestyle.

Diet and exercise work together to boost your immune system and prepare your body to ward off cancer and other diseases. Many dietitians recommend a diet based around antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, including berries, beans (including soy), broccoli, dark leafy greens, cabbage, garlic and tomatoes. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.

Visit your dentist regularly for oral cancer screening.

Most signs of oral cancer are easily noticed by your dentist or hygienist during your regular checkups and cleanings. Early detection is a primary indicator in cancer survival rates—the sooner oral cancer is discovered, the easier it is to treat effectively.

It’s important to do what you can to reduce risk, but even if you’ve taken all the steps above, oral cancer screening is still important. Approximately 25 percent of patients diagnosed with oral cancer are categorized as low risk.