What Are The Best Ways To Prevent Oral Cancer?

More than 48,000 people in America were told they have oral cancer this year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. About 9,575 will probably not live to see next year. Sobering numbers that should serve as a wake-up call.1 In spite of the high number of people being diagnosed with oral cancer every year, dodging the oral cancer bullet isn’t that complicated. You can do plenty to puts the odds in your favor. Here’s a look at some simple ways to prevent oral cancer or lower your risk of developing it.

Quit Smoking

Smoking and tobacco use have long been implicated in oral cancer. One study in Spain reflects what researchers around the world have now concluded without any doubt. According to the study, tobacco consumption was the single most important risk factor when it came to oral cancer.2


Skip The Tipple: Why Alcohol Is A No-No

With alcohol consumption identified as a key risk factor in increasing your chance of contracting oral cancer, staying within the recommended weekly limits is important. According to the NHS in the UK, men should avoid exceeding 21 units per week and women should keep their intake to under 14 units (1 unit = 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol).3 Alcohol can be an irritant to the tissue in your mouth and throat. And when used in conjunction with tobacco, it can be even worse. That’s because the alcohol facilitates the absorption of carcinogenic chemicals present in tobacco into the throat and mouth.4

Prevent HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for cervical cancer but is now gaining infamy for its link to cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx. With studies finding that it has a causative role in these cancers, preventing the contraction of HPV can be your first line of defense.5 You can protect yourself against certain kinds of HPV through vaccinations at the right age (ideally when a person is young, free of HPV, and not sexually active).6


Avoid Too Much Sun Exposure

As far as possible, avoid spending too much time in direct sunlight since this is a risk factor for contracting oral cancer. The worst time of day is mid-day when the UV radiation from the sun is at its highest. If you are forced to go out, cover up with clothes that protect your arms and legs and use sunscreen on exposed body parts.7

Use Lip Balm With SPF

If prolonged sun exposure is unavoidable due to the nature of your job, where you live, or your lifestyle, protect yourself against harmful UVA and UVB rays. Always use a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 on your face and body, but don’t forget to invest in a lip balm that offers similar protection for the mouth and lip area.8


Eat Fresh

Stock up on plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants. As with any cancer, researchers have found that antioxidants can help counter the effects of oxidative stress that can bring on cancers. In addition to vitamins and antioxidants that have chemopreventive properties, fresh produce also has phytochemicals like beta-carotene which can stimulate molecules that boost the immune system and help attack cancer cells.9

Know Your Risk Level

Some people are more susceptible to getting oral cancer. For instance, men tend to be more prone to developing this form of cancer. You need to check if you fall into one of the following categories, in which case you should make routine oral cancer screening part of your overall healthcare regimen.10

  • Over 55 years old
  • Have contracted HPV, graft-versus-host disease, or lichen planus disease
  • Drink large amounts of alcohol
  • Smoke or chew tobacco
  • Are in direct sunlight for lengths of time
  • Have low immunity (usually as a result of certain medicines or illness)

Screen Yourself

You can have yourself screened at the dentist with little to no effort. But even before you do that, there are some simple checks you can do at home with just a handy mirror. Look out for red or white patches in your mouth, gums, lips, or tongue; lumps in the neck or mouth; sores or bleeding in the mouth that don’t heal. Also be wary of persisting hoarseness of the voice, trouble swallowing, swelling, loosening of the teeth, or an earache that refuses to go away.11 This screening is well worth it and could save your life.

Researchers assessing the impact of screening on oral cancer-linked mortality found that this timely intervention could help cut the risk of death among high-risk individuals. With at least 37,000 lives that could be saved around the world through screening each year, this may be one of the best ways to improve your odds.12