What Can I Do If I’m at Risk for Oral Cancer?
If you have any of the factors that put you at risk for oral cancer, what can you do? The best thing is to try to avoid the risks that you can. There also are several lifestyle changes you can make that may help reduce your risk.
Don’t use tobacco products. Tobacco of any kind—cigarettes, chew or snuff, pipes, or cigars—plays a role in oral cancer.3 If you don’t smoke or use other tobacco products, don’t start. If you do, stop now. Some people may think there is no reason to quit using tobacco because the damage has already been done. It’s true that anyone who has used tobacco has a greater risk for getting oral cancer than someone who has never tried it.3 But stopping tobacco use at any time does reduce your risk.2
Ask your doctor for more information about ways to quit using tobacco products. Check with your local branch of the American Lung Association for programs to stop smoking. Check with friends who have stopped using tobacco to see what worked for them. It may take several attempts before you are successful, but you can change this risk factor.
Limit your intake of alcohol. Excessive use of alcohol can increase your risk for oral cancer.3 Alcohol use combined with tobacco use increases the risk even more.2 If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.2, 3 If this is difficult to do, ask your doctor for advice for controlling this risk factor. You may want to check for local support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. You’ll find their phone number in your local phone book.
Protect your lips. Spending time in the sun increases the risk for lip cancer. You can lower your risk by using a lip balm that contains sunscreen.2, 3
Get regular dental exams. When oral cancer is detected in its early stages, there is a better chance at treating it.1 At your regular dental exams, your dental professional will check for any white or red spots or sores in your mouth.2 If you have any spots or sores, he or she will test and treat them as necessary.2 These spots may be harmless, but they also may be cancerous or precancerous.2
Take care of your mouth. Take care of your teeth and gums by brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line, and flossing at least once a day.1 See a dental professional regularly for cleaning and exams.1
Know about your inherited risks. Ask your parents, grandparents, and other relatives about their oral health history. You may not be able to control oral cancer risks you’ve inherited from your family. But if you know that you have these risks, you can make sure to lower the risks you can control by following the other suggestions described above.
1 “Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums (Oral Hygiene).” American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/2624.aspx Accessed 2010.
2 “Oral Cancer.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/aspx Accessed 2010.
3 “Oral Cancer.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/OralCancer/OralCancer.htm Accessed 2010.