Cancer is a disease that needs to be understood rather explicitly as there are many known and unknown causes of cancer. Some people may develop cancer without having any known risk factors and some others may not develop the disease in spite of having several known risk factors. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them to your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
Age is a risk factor for head and neck cancer as the risk increases after age 40. Individuals over 40 years are at increased risk for head and neck cancer. Oral hygiene and frequent visits to ENT specialist and head and neck surgeon help in early detection of oral cancer.
Race – Asian people and black African and Americans are at increased risk for oral cancer compared to whites. And Indians are prone to oral cancer owing to their tobacco use and smoking habits.
Gender. Men are at increased risk compared to women – and, in fact, the risk is most likely to be around two to three times higher in men. However, oral cancer in women has been on the rise over the last few decades.
Poor nutrition: Proper nutrition and good nutritious diet play an important role in one’s health. Inadequate diet and poor nutrition can raise an individual’s risk of developing illnesses and cancer is one of them. The risk increases if the person is malnourished with other risk factors like a family history of head and neck cancer.
Weak immune system: The risk for any type of cancer increases if an individual’s nutritional and immune status is weak – head and neck cancer is no exception to this.
Poor oral and dental hygiene: Poor oral and dental hygiene is a risk factor for heart disease and head and neck cancer. Therefore, individuals who are already at risk owing to other high-risk factors should seriously consider taking care of their oral and dental hygiene.
Tobacco use: Nearly about 85% of the cases of head and neck cancer are linked to tobacco use. It is considered as the single largest factor for head and neck cancer. Smoking increases the risk of head and neck cancer. Secondhand smoke or passive smoking also increases the risk of head and neck cancer.
Alcohol Abuse: The use of alcohol and drinking alcohol on a frequent basis and regularly and heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of laryngeal, pharyngeal, mouth and oesophagal cancers. The risk of head and neck cancer increases many folds in individuals who use tobacco and alcohol together.
Marijuana use: According to research studies those who use marijuana regularly are at increased risk of developing head and neck cancer.
HPV Virus – Human papillomavirus (HPV) is now considered as a high-risk factor for head and neck cancer in individuals who are involved in high-risk sexual activity – especially unprotected oral sex. Though there are several strains of HPV, only some are associated with certain types of oral cancers. Though vaccines are available, the protection they offer is inconclusive.
Epstein-Barr virus is involved in the development of nasopharyngeal cancer. The virus is also a primary cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Burkitt’s lymphoma and infectious mononucleosis. Nasopharyngeal cancer is prevalent in developing country like India. This type of cancer is treatable by radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Prolonged sun exposure: Prolonged unprotected sun exposure is not good for the skin. It is linked to lip cancer and may also increase the risk of skin cancer and head and neck cancer.
Occupational or environmental inhalants like dust, asbestos, paint fumes, wood dust and some chemical can increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
To sum it up – maintaining a good oral and dental hygiene by visiting a dentist regularly and visiting an ENT specialist and head and neck surgeon upon noticing any abnormality like ulcer or sores in the mouth can help in the early detection of oral cancer and prompt treatment.