What Can I Do If I'm At Risk for Oral Cancer?

If you have any of the factors that put you at risk for oral cancer, what can you do? The best thing is to try to avoid the risks that you can. There are also several lifestyle changes you can make that may help reduce your risk.

Don't use tobacco products.

If you haven't smoked or used tobacco, don't start. If you have, stop now. Some people believe that there is no reason to quit using tobacco because the damage has already been done. It's true that anyone who has used tobacco has more of a risk for getting oral cancer than someone who has never tried it. Still, stopping tobacco use does reduce your risk of oral cancer. And the longer you don't use tobacco, the more your risk decreases. You also reduce your risk of getting other types of cancer and even other types of health problems such as heart disease.

So is it worth the effort? You bet. Ask your doctor for more information about ways to stop using tobacco. Check with your local branch of the American Lung Association for programs to stop smoking. Check with friends who have stopped using tobacco to see what worked for them. It may take several attempts before you are successful, but you can change this risk factor.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Drinking alcohol increases the risk for oral cancer. The risk increases with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed each day. If a person smokes and drinks, the risk for oral cancer goes up even more.

Protect your lips.

You can lower your risk for oral cancer by using sunscreen or lip balm when out in the sun. Look for lip protection with high SPF (sun protection factor) numbers. Healthcare professionals recommend using products with a minimum SPF of 15, although most prefer that you use products with an SPF of 30.

Get regular mouth exams.

Have your doctor or dentist check for any unusual patches in your mouth. If you have leukoplakia (white patches that don't rub off) or erythroplakia (red patches), be sure they are treated or followed closely by a specialist. Avoiding tobacco use and alcohol may also help prevent leukoplakia.

Get regular dental care. Be sure to take care of your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing your teeth at least once a day. See a dentist regularly for professional cleaning and exams.

Don't use marijuana. Using marijuana may increase the risk for oral cancer.

Ask your doctor about inherited risks.You may not be able to control oral cancer risks you've inherited from your ancestors. But if you know that you have these risks, you can make sure that you do all you can to lower the risks you can control. Follow the other suggestions described above.