The Link Between Tobacco and Mouth Cancer

The Link Between Tobacco and Mouth Cancer

Mouth cancer (oral cancer) is on the rise. It’s easy to know if you should worry about your risk of developing mouth cancer because you only need to look at two variables: tobacco and alcohol. Of the two, tobacco products represent the single largest risk factor for mouth cancer.

Our team at Linda Kay Nichols, DMD, PA, takes the threat of mouth cancer seriously. When caught at an early stage, this type of cancer is easier to treat. Unfortunately, only 29% are found at an early stage. That’s why oral cancer screening is so important, and the team routinely does screenings during dental checkups.

Here’s everything you need to know about the link between tobacco and mouth cancer.

The role of tobacco in mouth cancer

Every time you inhale or chew tobacco, you expose your body to toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and at least 69 are proven carcinogens.

These carcinogens damage DNA, allowing cells to grow at an abnormally fast pace and build up into a cancerous tumor. Some of the chemicals in tobacco smoke work with the carcinogens, helping them form a strong attachment to DNA. Other chemicals prevent your cells from repairing the DNA damage.

The barrage of chemicals from tobacco results in an exceptionally high risk for mouth cancer. For cigarette smokers, the risk is 9-16 times higher compared to people who don’t smoke. Low-tar cigarettes are associated with a 9-times higher risk of mouth cancer, and as the amount of tar increases, so does your risk.

Cigarettes may be the worst offenders, but all tobacco products are dangerous. Pipe smoking is closely linked to lip cancer and chewing tobacco is associated with a 50% increase in cancers of the gums, cheeks, and inner lips. If you smoke cigars, you’re 4-10 times more likely to die from mouth, esophageal, and voice box (laryngeal) cancers. 

Beware of cigarettes and alcohol

Tobacco is bad enough, but if you smoke and drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol, you need to be more diligent about getting oral cancer screenings. Here’s why. Alcohol alone raises your risk for mouth cancer.

Smoking and drinking combined magnify the risk. People who drink and smoke heavily have a 30-times higher chance of mouth cancer compared to people who don’t indulge in either habit. 

Protect yourself with mouth cancer screening

Some types of cancers have formal guidelines recommending when and how often you should get screened. The American Cancer Society reports that we don’t currently have a specific screening test or program for your mouth. But there’s good news because cancers can be found during your routine dental exam.

Many people don’t realize that we look for signs of cancer during your 6-month dental checkups. And if we see a suspicious sore, we take a biopsy and send it to the lab to see if it’s cancerous. Other types of mouth sores can resemble cancerous lesions, so the only way to know for sure is with a biopsy.

However, you can also arrange a cancer screening if you notice warning signs such as:

If any of these symptoms don’t improve in 2-3 weeks, you should call us to schedule an appointment.

Call Linda Kay Nichols, DMD, PA, or schedule an appointment by booking online if you have questions about a problem with your mouth.

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