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Avoid the risks that lead to oral cancer

More than 130 South Dakotans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year.  April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, but every month is a chance to take steps to prevent oral cancer from growing. 

The risk of oral cancer increases with age. In South Dakota 95% of oral cancer occurs in patients 45 years or older. But, oral cancer is known as a lifestyle disease, meaning you can dramatically reduce your risk by adjusting your daily habits. 

Tobacco, alcohol and diet are some of the biggest lifestyle factors that lead to oral cancer. Studies indicate a definitive link between the use of tobacco products and oral cancer, with 75% of mouth and throat cancers occurring in tobacco users.

When combined with tobacco use, alcohol has an even greater chance of causing cancer, as 7 out of 10 people who develop oral cancer drink heavily.  Heavy alcohol drinking is defined as having 4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women and 5 or more drinks on any day or 15 or more drinks per week for men. There are multiple ways alcohol may increase the risk of cancer, including decreasing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients that may help prevent cancer.

Not getting enough fruits and vegetables also increases your risk. Adding non-starchy fruits and vegetables such as berries and broccoli to a diet has been shown to reduce the chances of developing oral cancer.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is another leading cause of oral cancers, especially oropharyngeal cancers found in the back of the throat. Luckily, there is an HPV vaccine that’s effective against the most common strains of HPV that cause oral cancer.

When it comes to oral cancer, early detection can be a lifesaver. Perform home screenings and ask your dentist about oral cancer screenings during regular checkups. Mouth symptoms to look for can include sores, red or white patches, persistent pain or numbness, lumps or rough spots, and issues chewing and swallowing.

By avoiding risk factors, adjusting your daily habits and watching for symptoms, you can help protect your future from oral cancer.  The SDQuitLine offers free resources and tools to help you quit tobacco.