Common Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

Oct 01, 2023
Common Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Many factors can cause or contribute to the development of oral cancer. Read on to learn what these factors are, and find out why early detection and regular oral cancer screenings are crucial.

Oral cancer refers to cancer of the mouth. It can occur in any part of the mouth, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor, gums, or roof. While it's not as common as other cancers, approximately 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer yearly.

At OneSource Dental of South Tampa in Tampa, Florida, Nancy Horton, DMD, and our team offer comprehensive screenings for detecting oral cancer at its earliest stages. Ignoring the early symptoms can lead to life-threatening consequences. However, getting an early diagnosis can dramatically increase your odds of successful treatment.

In this blog, Dr. Horton goes over some of the common risk factors for oral cancer.


Smoking is one of the most common risk factors for oral cancer. And, you increase your chances of getting oral cancer whether you smoke or use smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco.

The harmful chemicals found in tobacco products can cause significant irritation and damage to the cells in your mouth. Quitting tobacco can reduce your risk significantly.

Drinking alcohol 

Research suggests that the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher their risk is of developing oral cancer. Furthermore, the risk is even higher if you drink and also smoke. Research shows that nicotine and alcohol use accounts for about 80% of oral cancer cases in men and 65% in women.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

The connection between HPV and oral cancer has become more evident in recent years. Some types of HPV are increasingly being linked to cases of oral cancer, particularly types of cancer that affect the throat and base of the tongue. Safe sexual practices and HPV vaccinations can help reduce the risks associated with this virus.

Sun exposure

You may find it surprising, but excessive sun exposure at a young age can contribute to lip cancer later in life. The UV rays from the sun can cause damage to the skin on the lips over time. Using sunscreen or lip balm with a high sun protection factor (SPF) when you're outdoors can help mitigate the risk.

Poor oral hygiene

Maintaining good oral health doesn't just help you prevent cavities. It's also essential for reducing your risk for oral cancer. If you don't come in for regular dental cleanings and oral checkups, cancer cells might develop undetected. 

Family history

Genetics can play a considerable role in your susceptibility to developing oral cancer. Having a history of cancer in your family, especially oral cancer, means you have to be extra vigilant. Getting regular screenings becomes even more crucial in such cases, as they could be the key to early detection and effective treatment.


Nutrition plays an often-underestimated role in the development of oral cancers. Diets low in fruits and vegetables can lack the essential vitamins and antioxidants that are needed to prevent the formation of cancer cells. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients can provide an extra layer of protection against oral cancer.

Age and gender

Oral cancer is more commonly diagnosed in people over age 60. Also, men are more likely than women to develop oral cancer, though it's important to note that rates among women are rising. Hormonal changes, lifestyle factors, and exposure to other factors over time can all contribute to this age-related risk.

At OneSource Dental of South Tampa, we provide comprehensive oral cancer screenings. To get the care you need to keep your mouth healthy, call 813-879-9299 or book an appointment online today.