Preventing Oral Cancer

NYU Langone doctors encourage screening and healthy lifestyle choices to help prevent the development of oral cancer.

Screening for Oral Cancer

NYU Langone oral cancer specialists recommend having dental check-ups every 6 to 12 months. At these visits, a dentist should examine not only the teeth and gums but also the soft tissue in and around the oral cavity. A primary care physician can also perform this exam.

The oral cavity includes the inside and outside of the lips, the cheeks, the sides and undersurface of the tongue, the floor and roof of the mouth, the gums, and the back of the mouth and top of the throat, called the oropharynx.

Some growths in the oral cavity can easily be identified as noncancerous, or benign, based on their appearance. Others need further evaluation. If the dentist or doctor finds any suspicious tissue, he or she should refer you to an oral cancer specialist, who can perform tests to determine whether the growth is cancerous.

Early detection of tissue changes is the best way to prevent oral cancer, which can develop from precancerous lesions in the tissue lining the oral cavity.

Precancerous lesions appear as white, red, or a combination of white and red patches in the oral cavity. NYU Langone doctors diagnose a precancerous lesion after performing a biopsy, in which they remove tissue for examination under a microscope. If the precancerous growth is managed by a doctor, it may not turn into oral cancer.

Avoid Tobacco Use

Many head and neck cancers are linked to smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco. NYU Langone doctors strongly urge people who smoke to quit. Perlmutter Cancer Centerā€™s tobacco cessation programs provide assistance and resources to help you stop smoking. After youā€™ve quit, many precancerous lesions shrink and may even disappear.

Limit Alcohol Intake

Long-term, heavy alcohol use increases the odds of developing oral cancer. A combination of heavy smoking and drinking raises the risk even more.

NYU Langone doctors advise drinking alcohol in moderationā€”no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

Ask your doctor how to find support if you want to cut back.

Reduce Exposure to Ultraviolet Light

Oral cancer includes cancer that forms on the lips. You can prevent this type of cancer by limiting exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds. Wear lip balm with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30 to block damaging UVA and UVB rays.

Limiting exposure to UV light can also help prevent skin cancer, including melanoma and basal and squamous cell skin cancers.