Risk of oral cancer in African-American men

July 07, 2015

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Men's Health Week stretches from June 15 to 21, 2015 which provides the perfect opportunity to focus on oral health issues commonly faced by males. This year's theme is entitled "Moments in Time," a title that captures the idea of how all moments in life, both big and small, can have a substantial impact on men's overall health.1 Oral care especially embodies this statement because daily routines and habits are what either prevent or elicit long-term dental health issues.

Oral cancer is an unfortunately common and serious oral health issue, and African-American men have a particularly high risk for this disease.2 Learn more about your risk for oral cancer and how you can prevent it:

What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer, otherwise known as mouth cancer, is a potentially deadly disease that affects any area of the mouth including the lips, gums, tongue and cheeks.3 Approximately 45,750 Americans are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year.4 It can cause pain when chewing or swallowing, chronic mouth sores, loose teeth, jaw stiffness and even death, as it does for 8,650 individuals on an annual basis.

African-American men are at a higher risk for oral cancer.
African-American men are at a higher risk for oral cancer.

Who is at risk?
Gender, age and race all play a role in your risk for oral cancer. Males are twice as likely as females to develop mouth cancer, and older adult men are at an even higher risk - the average age at diagnosis is 62.5

African-American men are at a greater risk for oral cancer than other races. In fact, both tobacco-related oral cancer occurrences and deaths are twice as high for African-American men as they are for Caucasian men.4 The discrepancy is related to lifestyle choices and socioeconomic factors rather than biological differences. Therefore, knowledge of this disease and its preventative measures is essential for reducing your risk for oral cancer.

"Alcohol and tobacco use greatly increase your risk."

How can I reduce my risk for oral cancer?
Preventable lifestyle habits can make you more susceptible to mouth cancer. Specifically, alcohol and tobacco use greatly increase your risk. About 70 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancers are heavy drinkers and 80 percent use tobacco in the form of either cigarettes, chew or snuff.5

By quitting or limiting these behaviors, you not only reduce your chances of developing oral cancer, but you also enhance your oral care routine. These habits can cause bad breath, yellow teeth and cavities. Chewing tobacco and alcohol especially contribute to tooth decay because they contain high amounts of sugar.6

Practicing proper daily oral care, avoiding poor lifestyle choices and keeping open communication with your dentist can help African-American men reduce their risk for oral cancer.

1. "'Moments in Time' Men's Health Week June 15-21 2015," Men's Health Week 2002-2015. http://www.menshealthweek.org.au/En/Default.aspx

2. "Are You At Risk for Oral Cancer? What African American Men Need to Know," National Institutes of Health. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/Topics/OralCancer/AfricanAmericanMen/oral_exam_brochure.htm

3. "Mouth Cancer," Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mouth-cancer/basics/definition/con-20026516

4. "Oral Cancer Facts," The Oral Cancer Foundation. http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/

5. "Oral Cancer Risk Factors," Cancer Treatment Centers of America. http://www.cancercenter.com/oral-cancer/risk-factors/

6. "Health risks of chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco," Mayo Clinic.
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking/in-depth/chewing-tobacco/art-20047428?pg=2

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