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How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?

There are two ways to protect yourself against oral cancer. One is to avoid risky behaviors that increase your risk for the disease. The other strategy: Adopt healthy habits that lower your risk.

Avoid Risks

Tobacco use is the leading cause of oral cancer. In fact, smokers are six times as likely to develop oral cancer as nonsmokers. By avoiding—or stopping—tobacco use, you can lower your risk for the disease. Studies show that smokers who quit the habit will cut their risk in half in just five years. After 10 years, former smokers have the same risk as people who never used tobacco.

Watching your alcohol intake may also lower your risk. The risk for oral cancer increases with the amount of alcohol that people drink each day.

Live Healthy

Eating a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables may lower your risk for oral cancer. Aim for at least five servings of produce a day.

Another good habit to adopt: Use lip balm with sunscreen before going outside. Sunlight may increase your risk for lip cancer.

Get Screened

Some risk factors for oral cancer are beyond your control. For instance, the disease is more common in men and in older people. In addition, oral cancer can occur in people who have no known risk factors.

So you need to commit to getting regular dental exams. During exams, your dentist will check for signs of oral cancer. When caught early, oral cancer tends to be easier to treat.

“Oral Cancer Prevention. Patient Version.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, January 9, 2013. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/oral/patient Accessed 2013.

“Oral Cancer.” American Cancer Society, 2007. www.cancer.org/downloads/PRO/OralCancer.pdf Accessed 2013.

“Oral Cancer.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-cancer Accessed 2013.

“Oral Cancer Screening. Patient Version.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, May 17, 2012. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/oral/patient Accessed 2013.

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