There are many different things that can increase your risk of developing tongue cancer. Some of these risk factors are completely within your control, while others are uncontrollable. Here are five things that have been identified as factors for the development of tongue cancer.
Cancers of the oral cavity, including tongue cancer, are fairly rare in younger people. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of a person diagnosed with oral cavity cancer is 62 years old. About one-quarter of patients are younger than 55 years old, and children are very rarely affected. Since these cancers are more common in older people, you need to start paying more attention to your mouth as you age. Your dentist may recommend regular oral cancer screenings so that he or she can carefully examine your tongue and other oral tissues for signs of cancer.
Using tobacco products
The link between the use of tobacco products and the development of oral cancers is well-established. Tobacco, whether it is smoked or chewed, is known to be a major cause of oral cancer. A University of California study found that a staggering eight out of 10 patients with oral cancer were smokers.
There are a lot of dangerous chemicals in tobacco, and when you smoke or chewed tobacco, these chemicals are released into your mouth. These chemicals can cause cancer by damaging the DNA that makes up your cells. Even small amounts of tobacco are not safe, so your dentist will recommend quitting completely, not just cutting back on your usage.
Drinking a lot of alcohol
Heavy alcohol use has been identified as a risk factor for the development of tongue cancer and other cancers inside the mouth. Your risk is greater if you use alcohol and tobacco together, but alcohol is also risky on its own.
Alcohol is potentially dangerous because as your body breaks down alcohol, it produces acetaldehyde. This chemical is what causes hangovers, but even worse, it has been identified as a carcinogen, meaning that it causes cancer.
For women, the risk of developing tongue cancer increases after one drink per day, and for men the risk increases after two drinks per day. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. To reduce your risk, try to cut back on your drinking and be sure to watch your portion sizes, as it is very easy to over pour a glass of wine.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has also been identified as a risk factor for tongue cancer. This sexually-transmitted virus is already known to cause cervical cancer in women, and it may have similar effects inside the mouth. Most of the time, oral HPV infections do not cause any symptoms, so you could have it right now without knowing that anything is wrong.
Oral HPV infections can lead to cancers of the throat, the tonsils, or the back of the tongue. If you have a high risk of having oral HPV infection, your dentist may want to regularly examine the back of your tongue and surrounding areas for signs of cancer.
Having a suppressed immune system
Having a suppressed immune system can also make you more susceptible to tongue cancer and other types of cancers. A strong immune system can be able to find and kill cancer cells, but if you are immunosuppressed, your immune system is not as capable of doing this.
Your immune system can become suppressed as a result of organ transplants, cancer treatment, HIV infection, or other health concerns. If you are immunosuppressed, make sure that your dentist is aware of this fact.
Some of the risk factors for tongue cancer are controllable, while others are not. To keep yourself safe, reduce your risk factors as much as you can and make sure to see your dentist regularly for oral cancer screenings. Contact a dentist like Joe Rosenberg, DDS for more information.