What Is Mouth Cancer And What Are The Common Causes?

What Is Mouth Cancer And What Are The Common Causes?

Cancer is without doubt one of the diseases which many people fear most. Research is going on apace and treatments are improving but the greatest success in treating cancer comes with the earliest possible diagnosis.

This is why any significant changes that you notice about yourself such as a mole on the skin becoming darker or starting to bleed, for example, should not be ignored, but should be checked out.


What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disorder of an organ or tissue of the body where cells which normally divide and form new ones to replace older ones dying off start instead to run riot and continue to divide without stopping. This causes uncontrollable growth resulting in what’s called a tumor or localised cancer.

The tumor can carry on increasing in size and spread locally, interfering with other body organs or even infiltrating the bloodstream, with the result that cancer cells are distributed to other parts of the body where they continue to multiply and set up secondary cancerous growths. The latter type of cancer is termed malignant whilst the former is called benign.


The Common Causes of Mouth Cancer

cigarette and alcohol

Cigarette smoking and alcohol are leading risk factors for mouth cancer.

The changes which lead to cancer developing begin within one or more cells as mutations which are anomalous changes of the cell’s DNA. The actual mechanism by which this is triggered is not fully understood but it seems likely that cancer develops in many cases as a result of chronic irritation of some kind in those individuals who may be predisposed to it.

The irritating factor could be excessive UV radiation from sunlight in the case of skin cancer, or the chemical irritation from tars in cigarette smoke in the case of lung cancer, for example.

  • In the case of cancers of the mouth and throat it is well established that drinking alcohol and smoking are two main risk factors for developing the disease. Somebody who is both a heavy drinker and smoker increases their risk by many more times. Another risk factor is taking in tobacco products in the form of snuff, or chewing on Betel nuts and/or tobacco which isa fairly widespread habit in certain parts of the world. There are also other smokeless tobacco products which have become available since the UK’s ban on smoking in public places. Smoking cannabis (weed), is probably more dangerous to health than smoking normal cigarettes since the tar content is higher.
  • There is a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV) which can affect the mucous membranes (i.e. linings) of various parts of the body such as the mouth and it is possible for some types to lead on to mouth cancer.
  • Some authorities believe that certain foods may predispose to mouth cancer, and cite red meat, fried food and processed foods as being possible culprits.
  • Poor oral hygiene may also predispose to increased risk of mouth cancer, and certainly having a decayed or broken tooth may cause rubbing against cheek or tongue and in time trigger a cancerous change. The risks here are very low though, when compared to the above top causes.
  • Similarly ill-fitting dentures may move around too much in the mouth and cause irritation of the gums or palate which might eventually provoke adverse cell changes. Once upon a time it was customary to fit upper plates with suction pads to help them stay put. These were fixed to the plate with a metal ring and if the rubber suction disc was allowed to perish away without replacement the metal ring would be a potent cause of mechanical irritation to the palate and often cause a cancer. Fortunately such devices are no longer used but the principle of ensuring that dentures fit as well as possible still applies.


Most oral cancers can be prevented and it is certainly best to try and avoid lifestyle habits which could encourage them.

Anyone who notices a lump or persistent ulcer in their mouth, or who is worried about the appearance of the inside of their mouth should see their dentist to get it checked because any cancer is best treated as early as possible for maximum success.



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