Oral Cancer Prevention
- What is prevention?
- General Information About Oral Cancer
- Oral Cancer Prevention
- Changes to This Summary (05/17/2012)
- Questions or Comments About This Summary
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Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will lower the number of deaths caused by cancer.
To prevent new cancers from starting, scientists look at risk factors and protective factors. Anything that increases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer protective factor.
Some risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, both smoking and inheriting certain genes are risk factors for some types of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be protective factors for some types of cancer. Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may lower your risk but it does not mean that you will not get cancer.
Different ways to prevent cancer are being studied, including:
- Changing lifestyle or eating habits.
- Avoiding things known to cause cancer.
- Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting.
Oral cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lips, mouth, or throat.
Oral cancer may form in any of three main areas:
Oral cavity, which includes:
- The front two thirds of the tongue.
- The gingiva (gums).
- The buccal mucosa (the lining of the inside of the cheeks).
- The floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue.
- The hard palate (the front, bony part of the roof of the mouth).
- The retromolar trigone (the small area behind the wisdom teeth).
Anatomy of the oral cavity. The oral cavity includes the lips, hard palate (the bony front portion of the roof of the mouth), soft palate (the muscular back portion of the roof of the mouth), retromolar trigone (the area behind the wisdom teeth), front two-thirds of the tongue, gingiva (gums), buccal mucosa (the inner lining of the lips and cheeks), and floor of the mouth under the tongue.
- Oropharynx, which includes:
Most oral cancers start in squamous cells (thin, flat cells) that line the lips, oral cavity, and oropharynx. Cancer that forms in squamous cells is called squamous cell carcinoma. Lesions on the mucous membranes (the lining of the mouth and throat), including leukoplakia (an abnormal white patch of cells) and erythroplakia (an abnormal red patch of cells), may develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
Oral cancer is more common in men than in women.
In Western countries, such as the United States, the most common areas for oral cancer are the tongue and the floor of the mouth. In parts of the world where chewing tobacco or betel nuts is common, oral cancer often forms in the retromolar trigone and buccal mucosa.
Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may help prevent cancer.
Avoiding cancer risk factors may help prevent certain cancers. Risk factors include smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise. Increasing protective factors such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising may also help prevent some cancers. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about how you might lower your risk of cancer.
The following risk factors may increase the risk of oral cancer:
All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing (smokeless) tobacco, are linked to oral cancer. The risk of oral cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Tobacco use is most likely to cause oral cancer in the floor of the mouth, but also causes cancer in the oral cavity and oropharynx and on the lips.
The risk of oral cancer is greater in people who use both tobacco and alcohol than it is in people who use only tobacco or only alcohol.
Results from clinical trials have shown that when a person stops smoking cigarettes, the risk of oral cancer decreases by one-half (50%) within 5 years. Within 10 years of quitting, the risk of oral cancer is the same as for a person who never used tobacco.
Using alcohol is a major risk factor for oral cancer.
The risk of oral cancer increases with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed per day. Alcohol use is also a risk factor for leukoplakia (an abnormal white patch of cells) and erythroplakia (an abnormal red patch of cells). Leukoplakia and erythroplakia lesions on the mucous membranes may become cancer.
The risk of oral cancer is greater in people who use both alcohol and tobacco than it is in people who use only alcohol or only tobacco.
Results from clinical trials have not shown a decrease in the risk of oral cancer when a person stops drinking alcohol.
Being exposed to sunlight may increase the risk of lip cancer, which occurs most often on the lower lip. Avoiding the sun and/or using lip balm with sunscreen or using colored lipstick may decrease the risk of lip cancer.
Using marijuana may increase the risk of oral cancer. Marijuana use by a person with high-risk HPV infection may further increase the risk of oral cancer.
The following protective factors may decrease the risk of oral cancer:
Eating a diet high in fruits and fiber-rich vegetables may lower the risk of developing oral cancer.
Studies of chemoprevention are under way in patients at high risk for oral cancer, including those with precancerous oral lesions and those with a history of oral cancer. Check NCI's Cancer Clinical Trials Registry for chemoprevention trials for cancer of the lip and oral cavity (see also: clinical trials at the Masonic Cancer Center) and oropharynx (see also: clinical trials at the Masonic Cancer Center) .
Cancer prevention clinical trials are used to study ways to prevent cancer.
Cancer prevention clinical trials are used to study ways to lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Some cancer prevention trials are conducted with healthy people who have not had cancer but who have an increased risk for cancer. Other prevention trials are conducted with people who have had cancer and are trying to prevent another cancer of the same type or to lower their chance of developing a new type of cancer. Other trials are done with healthy volunteers who are not known to have any risk factors for cancer.
The purpose of some cancer prevention clinical trials is to find out whether actions people take can prevent cancer. These may include eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, quitting smoking, or taking certain medicines, vitamins, minerals, or food supplements.
New ways to prevent oral cancer are being studied in clinical trials.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials can be found in the Clinical Trials section of the NCI Web site (see also: clinical trials at the Masonic Cancer Center) . Check NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry for lip and oral cavity cancer prevention trials (see also: clinical trials at the Masonic Cancer Center) and oropharyngeal cancer prevention trials (see also: clinical trials at the Masonic Cancer Center) that are now accepting patients.
Images were added to this summary.
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PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether a certain drug or nutrient can prevent cancer. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients and those who are at risk for cancer. During prevention clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new prevention method and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new method is better than one currently being used, the new method may become "standard." People who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Date first published: 2008-08-27
Date last modified: 2012-05-17