The two leading causes of mouth cancer in the UK are tobacco and alcohol .

Both tobacco and alcohol arecarcinogenic, which means they contain chemicals that can damage the DNA in cells and lead to Predictive genetic test for cancer risk genes .

The risk of mouth cancer increases significantly in people who smoke and drink heavily.

Some peoplealso chew tobacco or other substances that are carcinogenic.

It's not known exactly what triggers the DNA changes that lead to mouth cancer and why only a small number of people develop it.

Other risk factors

Other risk factors for mouth cancer may include:

  • chewing tobacco or other smokeless tobacco products
  • chewing betel nuts with or without tobacco
  • a poor diet
  • the human papilloma virus (HPV)

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco products include:

  • chewing tobacco
  • snuff powdered tobacco designed to be snorted

Smokeless tobacco products aren't harmless and may increase your risk of developing mouth cancer, as well as other cancers, such as liver cancer , pancreatic cancer and oesophageal cancer .

Betel nuts

Betel nuts are mildly addictive seeds from the betel palm tree. They're widely used in many southeast Asian ethnic communities, such as people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin.

Betel nuts have a stimulant effect similar to coffee. They also have a carcinogenic effect, which can increase the risk of mouth cancer. This risk is increased by chewing betel nuts with tobacco, as many people in southeast Asia do.

Because ofthe tradition of using betel nuts, rates of mouth cancer are much higher in ethnic Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan communities than in the population at large.

Oral hygiene

As cancer is sometimes associated with long-standing wounds, there's a small chance that jagged, brokenteeth, which cause persistent ulcers or wounds on the tongue, can increase the chance of mouth cancer developing there.

It's therefore very important to do everything you can to keep your mouth and teeth healthy.

The lymph glands in the neck are usually the first place where mouth cancer forms secondaries.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 12 Okt 2016