The causes and risk factors of any type of cancer are as varied as the people who experience this type of condition. There are a number of identified risk factors that relate to the causes of oral cancers, but genetics, medical history, lifestyle, and diet can affect these risk factors. For example, a person who is in good health and is enjoying a healthy diet and exercise is likely going to have a higher immune system (generally speaking) and will certainly have a different level of risk in developing any type of cancer, including oral cancers, than say someone who smokes.
Many health care professionals today are moving towards a trend to treat the whole body as one organism and to address cancer of any kind not by where it is located, because it can move throughout the body as it spreads, but by the type of cancer it is. Several of the most common and aggressive cancers are located in the intestines. The location where your body processes foods, withdraws nutrition, distributes it throughout your entire body, and effectively removes toxins and waste products from the body.
This makes the entire gastrointestinal system, beginning with your mouth, a vital part of your prevention, protection, and survival from cancer. The food and beverages you consume, the fuel your body uses to fight disease, is critical to your overall wellbeing.
Scientists and health care experts don’t always agree on exactly which foods, beverages, and other lifestyle choices are worse for promoting oral cancers than others. Some people beat the odds. In fact, a recent report published in Time magazine showed that in a study of people who made it to age 95, they were just as likely as their shorter-lived peers to engage in the kinds of lifestyle habits that researchers deem unhealthy: eating fried foods, drinking, smoking and failing to regularly exercise. Still, there are certain statistics that point to greater risk of oral and other types of cancers, and many health care professionals have narrowed down those risk factors into categories.
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Understanding possible causes of cancer comes down to understanding the causes of gene and DNA mutations. Chemicals (such as carcinogens), radiation, obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation, smoking, viruses, and a number of other factors have been linked to cancer.
Some of the other factors more recently linked to some types of cancers, including oral cancers, include:
Genetically modified foods, chemicals in processed foods such as preservatives and artificial colors, chemicals that are created through non-approved containers used in microwaves, meats that have been injected or processed with growth hormones and antibiotics, refined sugar and foods made with them, nitrates (which are intended to prolong shelf life), soda and carbonated beverages (especially those containing high-fructose corn syrup), dyes and artificial sweeteners, bleached white flour, pesticides, carcinogenic chemicals used to control the bacterial, viral, and parasitic outbreaks that result from some commercial food processing systems, and hydrogenated oils.
Factors that may increase the risk of oral cancer include regular tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff; heavy alcohol use, excessive sun exposure to your lips, head, neck; the sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), and a weakened immune system.
Health care professionals strongly advise patients at risk of oral cancer to stop using tobacco. If you use tobacco, stop. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. Using tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, exposes the cells in your mouth to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals. The more frequent the exposure, the more risk.
Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Just like chronic smoking, chronic excessive alcohol use can irritate the cells in your mouth, making them vulnerable to mouth cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself and drink plain water afterwards to rinse your teeth and gums.
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Build up your immune system by eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The vitamins and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may help reduce your risk of mouth cancer.
Avoid excessive sun exposure to your head, neck, and mouth/lips. Protect the skin on your lips from the sun by staying in the shade when possible and avoid going outside during hours when the sun is nearing overhead (noon). Wear a broad-brimmed hat that effectively shades your entire face, including your mouth. Apply a sunscreen lip product as part of your routine sun protection regimen.
Add regular visits to your healthcare professional as part of your routine. If you have concerns about the possibility of mouth or throat cancers, ask your healthcare professional to inspect your mouth for abnormal areas that may indicate oral cancer or precancerous changes that may appear.