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Four Ways to Decrease Your Risk of Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

Each year, approximately 63,000 people in the United States – nearly three times as many men as women - develop head and neck cancer. These cases account for 3 percent of all malignancies in the U.S. and can negatively affect some of the most vital human functions, such as speaking and swallowing.

With April being national Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, here are four important tips for lowering your risk of oral, head and neck cancer.

1. Quit your smoking and drinking habit

  • Tobacco is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancer, followed by alcohol consumption.
  • Together, tobacco and alcohol use account for 85 percent of oral, head and neck cancers and can further increase one’s risk if used together.
  • Even those who quit smoking after the age of 50 can reduce their risk of early death.

2. Get the HPV vaccine

  • The human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is transmitted by sexual activity, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world, infecting 14 million people each year.
  • Although the HPV virus is most commonly linked to the development of cervical cancer, studies now reveal an increasing number of head and neck cancer cases acquired through the HPV infection.
  • Although the vaccination is typically given to children at the age of 11 or 12, it is strongly recommended for young women through age 26 and young men through age 21 who have not yet received it.

3. Stay out of the heat

  • Prolonged sun exposure is also linked to cancer in the lip area. Lip cancer is a type of oral cancer that is most prevalent among men, especially those who work outside under direct sunlight.
  • For those who are exposed to large amounts of ultraviolet rays on a daily basis, it is recommended to wear a sunscreen lip balm or a wide-brimmed hat while outside.

4. Maintain good oral hygiene

  • Irregular tooth brush and infrequent dentist visits are common risk factors for oral cancer.
  • Making simple changes to your dental care such as brushing your teeth and flossing after each meal, can greatly decrease your risk of developing oral cancer, as well as preventing gum disease, cavities, broken teeth and fillings.

For more information on Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Prevention

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Peyton Wesner
Communications Manager for UF Health External Communications (352) 273-9620