In an average week, more than 16 Victorians will be diagnosed with oral cancer and four will die from it. Read more about the major risk factors.
Tobacco use and alcohol consumption cause about 75% of oral cancers
Tobacco use and alcohol consumption cause about 75% of oral cancers. Tobacco and alcohol expose the mouth to carcinogens, damaging cells which can grow uncontrollably to form a tumour. If a person uses tobacco and drinks alcohol, their risk of oral cancer is significantly greater. Alcohol may enable other carcinogens, including tobacco, to enter and damage cells. Once a person quits tobacco or alcohol their oral cancer risk starts to decrease, although it will remain higher than never-smokers or never-drinkers.
People who use tobacco are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t. This includes smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, and chewing tobacco, areca nut, betel quid, pan or gutka (mostly used by South Asian communities). Oral cancer risk increases with duration and amount of use. How tobacco is used can also determine the location of the cancer. For example, a person who chews tobacco in their left cheek is more likely to develop oral cancer there.
Oral cancer is six times more common in alcohol drinkers than in non-drinkers. Not drinking at all is the best option to prevent oral cancer. There is no safe level of consumption: a person’s risk goes up with every drink.
of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that causes cervical cancer. While many of us are exposed to HPV, primarily through oral sex, it commonly clears from the body. However for a small number of people, persistent oral HPV damages cells and leads to oropharyngeal cancer. Symptoms can take months to develop. Smoking and drinking alcohol increases oropharyngeal cancer risk.
Oral cancer is now the 8th most common cancer in men in Victoria, and the 14th most common cancer in women. Those at higher risk include: