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Tobacco Use: A leading cause of oral cancer

Updated on December 8, 2009

Oral cancer kills one person every day. The large number of oral cancer cases is highly attributed to the use of tobacco, including smoking, snuffing and chewing tobacco. Tobacco has long-been known as a leading cause of oral cancer. According to MD Anderson, "34,000 people are diagnosed with cancers of the mouth and oropharynx in the United States each year." Although this number is great in itself, the rates are much higher internationally. Hungary and France have some of the highest number of oral cancer cases due to Tobacco. India ranks in the top as well due to Tobacco and Areca Nut and Betel Nut chewing. Oral cancer cases are three times higher in Asia than they are in the United States. All numbers of oral cancer cases do not take into consideration the number of cancers that go undiagnosed in 3rd world countries and impoverished areas, where hygiene, dental care and medical assistance is not readily available or non-existent.

Tobacco use is not only one of the causes of this type of cancer, but in addition, the American Cancer Society asserts that tobacco is "linked to 15 different cancers, and accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths." Most commonly cancer is found on the "floor of the mouth and the lips. It can also be in the gums, teeth, salivary glands, the lining of the lips and cheeks, the roof of the mouth and behind the wisdom teeth."

Even with the statistics stacked against tobacco use, one in five Americans are still using tobacco products.

Below are some common symptoms that MD Anderson offers. Early detection is important, thus if you have any of the below treatment, a doctor visit is suggested in order to determine the cause of the abnormal area.

• A white area or spot in the oral cavity.
• A red, raised area or spot that bleeds if scraped.
• A spot with both red and white areas.
• Sore in the mouth or throat that doesn't heal
• Loose teeth
• Lump or thickening in the neck, face, jaw, cheek, tongue or gums
• Difficulty swallowing or the sensation that something is caught in the throat
• Earache or sore throat that does not go away
• Dentures that cause discomfort or do not fit well
• Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw
• Persistent bad breath
• Unexplained weight loss
• Change in voice

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are still using tobacco, there are tobacco treatment programs available. Continued use of tobacco products could "affect cell growth, cell death and tumor density, hindering the effectiveness of treatment."

Primary Resource

A special thanks to the Fight Oral Cancer Foundation. Arma Shahidi-Fitzgerald is the founder of the Fight Oral Cancer Foundation. Through her work with the Fight Oral Cancer Foundation, she is raising awareness on the serious issue of oral cancer as she fights to save lives.


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