Oral Cancer & Nutrition

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month.  Oral cancer refers to cancer of the mouth and is of particular concern because it can grow without any symptoms in its early stages, and often isn’t discovered until late in its development, when it has already spread to another location. Some risk factors include:

Age:  Most oral cancer patients are aged 40 and over.

HPV:  Human papillomavirus (HPV-16), a sexually transmitted disease (the same virus that causes more than 90% of all cervical cancers) is the leading cause of oral cancer.

Tobacco: Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, among others can increase your risk.

Alcohol:  Excessive alcohol use, as well as the combination of tobacco and alcohol greatly increases your risk of contracting oral cancer.

Sun Exposure:  Unprotected sun exposure may increase the risk of lip cancer.

Nutrition on the other hand may play a role in decreasing your risk.  The antioxidant properties of certain vitamins and minerals help inhibit the oxidative damage that can lead to cellular changes that can increase oral cancer risk.   Studies have shown decreased risk of cancers of the oral cavity with high intake of fruits and vegetables.  In other words, not eating enough fruits and vegetables can increase your risk.

Other helpful nutrients which may decrease your risk include:

Vitamin D:  Vitamin D has been shown to play a strong, protective role in various forms of cancer, including colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer.   Some studies have shown an inverse relationship between vitamin D status and risk of oral cancer, however more research is needed.

Vitamin C:  Studies have shown a strong association between high vitamin C intake and the prevention of oral cancer.

Other Antioxidants:  Antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, green tea, lycopene and curcumin are also believed to have a preventive role against oral cancer.

Overall, prevention and early detection are key.  Your dentist can detect early signs of oral cancer, so be sure to visit your dentist regularly. This April, make detection and prevention of oral cancer a priority in your life.



(1) Iqubal, Md Asad, et al. “Role of Vitamin e in Prevention of Oral Cancer:-a Review.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR, JCDR Research and Publications (P) Limited, Oct. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253290/.

(2) “Mouth Cancer.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 Oct. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mouth-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20350997.

(3) R;, Chainani-Wu N;Epstein J;Touger-Decker. “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer: Strategies for Clinical Practice.” Journal of the American Dental Association (1939), U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21282682/.

(4) The Oral Cancer Foundation, oralcancerfoundation.org/.

(5) “Vitamins and The Prevention of Oral Cancer.” Dion Health, 15 June 2018, www.dionhealth.com/2018/04/30/vitamins-and-the-prevention-of-oral-cancer/.