Cincinnati—Although they’re famous for their big chew bulge, baseball players aren’t the only people prone to oral cancer.
Chronic smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, chronic oral trauma and nutritional deficiencies also put people at greater risk for the disease, according to experts at the University of Cincinnati (UC).
“Lifestyle changes can help people reduce their risk for oral cancer,” says Robert Marciani, DMD, a UC professor of surgery and oral-maxillofacial surgeon at University Hospital.
“In most cases the disease is entirely preventable if people maintain a healthy diet and avoid tobacco—including smokeless tobacco products like dip or snuff—and heavy alcohol consumption,” he adds.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 34,000 people will be diagnosed this year with oral cancer, which includes cancer of the entire oral cavity (mouth and lips) as well as the back part of the throat (oropharnyx).
Marciani says the disease most often occurs on the floor of the mouth and on the tongue.
“But unfortunately, there are very few warning signs of oral cancer until the lesions become large and painful,” he adds.
Marciani says symptoms include white or combination white-red patches or soreness or bleeding of the mouth or lips. Difficulty wearing dentures or pain when swallowing can also be warning signs of the disease. You should consult a physician immediately if you experience any of these symptoms or have a lump in the neck or an earache that won’t go away.
Some studies have suggested that not eating enough fruits and vegetables can increase your risk for oral cancer. A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health also reported that a high intake of vitamin C from diet—not supplements—also greatly reduced risk among men.
"Drugs such as retinoids, vitamin E, aspirin, cyclooxgenase inhibitors and vitamin C have been studied," adds Yash Patil, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at UC and ear, nose and throat surgeon at University Hospital. "In general, however, no effective prevention agent has been identified."
“The best first step for preventing this disease is still to stop smoking and using tobacco products,” cautions Marciani.
The UC Barrett Cancer Center at University Hospital leads a community smoking-cessation program—called Win by Quitting—that provides free medication and counseling to smokers who want to kick the habit for good. For more information, call (513) 585-CARE.
For more information on oral cancer, visit www.netwellness.org, a collaborative health-information Web site staffed by Ohio physicians, nurses and allied health professionals. For information on head and neck cancer clinical trials, call the UC research office at (513) 584-2951.