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Oral Cancer

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.

Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors.

But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

What are the risk factors for oral cancer?

Although heredity also plays a factor, certain lifestyle habits and health conditions can increase a person's risk for developing oral cancer. These include, but are not limited to:

Tobacco use

The majority of patients with oral cancer use tobacco in one form or another. Tobacco can damage cells in the lining of the oral cavity and oropharynx, causing abnormal cells to grow more rapidly to repair the damage. Researchers believe that the DNA-damaging chemicals in tobacco are linked to the increased risk of oral cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Alcohol use

The majority of patients with oral cancer use alcohol frequently. Paired with tobacco use, patients who drink and smoke increase their risk of developing oral cancer even more. Researchers have found that alcohol increases the penetration of DNA-damaging chemicals in the lining of the oral cavity and oropharynx, according to the American Cancer Society.


Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer. People who are outdoors for an extended period of time increase their risk of lip cancer, as well.

Chronic irritation

Chronic irritation to the lining of the mouth, due to poorly fitting dentures or other reasons, may increase a person's risk for oral cancer.

Lack of fruits and vegetables in diet

Research has suggested that fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that can "trap" harmful molecules, can decrease the risk for oral cancer (and other cancers). Thus, it is speculated that persons with a low intake of these types of foods are at an increased risk for (oral) cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

HPV usually causes warts and has been linked to cervical, vaginal, and penile cancers. HPV also increases the risk for oral cancers.


Oral cancer is twice as common in men then in women, partly because men are more likely to use tobacco and alcohol.

Locations for Oral Cancer