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April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and we at Red Mountain Family Dental want to get the word out about this deadly disease. Nearly 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, and more than 9,500 die. It often goes undiscovered for too long, so understanding risk factors can help you determine if you should be screened for oral cancer.

Tobacco use is a major risk factor for developing oral cancer. In fact, it has been the largest cause in adults over 50. This includes smoking, but also smokeless varieties like chewing tobacco. While better for your lungs, chewing tobacco greatly increases your risk for oral cancer. Alcohol use, when combined with tobacco, greatly exasperates risk. People who drink and use tobacco are 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who do not. If you use tobacco or alcohol, please consider quitting.

The fastest-growing risk factor for oral cancer is human papilloma virus, or HPV. It is shifting the occurrence of oral cancer from adults over 50 to younger populations. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that currently infects about 40 million Americans. It has about 200 strains, and while most don’t typically cause harm, the HPV16 can cause cancer in people without an appropriate immune response (about 1% of those infected.)

UV radiation from sunlight has also been implicated, and some other risk factors involving diet or other diseases may exist. The Oral Cancer Foundation has up-to-date and comprehensive information about oral cancer risk factors at www.oralcancer.org. You can also call our Mesa, AZ, office to learn more and to consult with one of our doctors about your oral health.