Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Oral Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Prevention - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Overview

Note: Separate PDQ summaries on Oral Cancer Screening; Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer Treatment; and Cigarette Smoking: Health Risks and How to Quit are also available.

Who is at Risk?

People who use tobacco in any of the commonly available forms (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco) or have high alcohol intake are at elevated risk of oral cancer; and they are at particularly high risk if they use both tobacco and alcohol. People who chew betel quid (whether mixed with tobacco or not)-a common practice in south central Asia and Melanesia-are also at high risk. Individuals with persistent oral infection by carcinogenic strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) are also at increased risk. People with chronic sun exposure are at elevated risk of lip cancer, particularly on the lower lip.

Factors associated with increased risk of oral cancer

Tobacco use

Based on solid evidence from numerous observational studies, tobacco use causes cancers of the lip, oral cavity, and oropharynx.[1,2,3] Smoking avoidance and smoking cessation result in decreased incidence and mortality from oral cancer.

Magnitude of Effect: Large (most cancers of the oral cavity are attributable to the use of tobacco products).

Study Design: Numerous observational case-control and cohort studies.
Internal Validity: Good.
Consistency: Good.
External Validity: Good.

Alcohol use

Based on solid evidence, alcohol use is an independent risk factor for the development of oral cancer.[4,5,6,7]

Magnitude of Effect: Lower than the risk associated with tobacco use, but the risk is approximately doubled for people who drink three to four alcoholic beverages per day compared with nondrinkers, and is dose related.

Study Design: Case-control and cohort studies.
Internal Validity: Good.
Consistency: Good.
External Validity: Good.

Oral cancer risk is highest in persons using both alcohol and tobacco compared with those using one or the other.

HPV infection

Based on solid evidence, there is a strong association between oral HPV infection and oral cancer, particularly HPV type 16.[8,9,10,11] Given the known causal association between HPV infections and cancer of the cervix, the established strong association between infection by carcinogenic strains of HPV and oral cancer may also be causal.

    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Colorectal cancer cells
    New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
    Lung cancer xray
    See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    Ovarian cancer illustration
    Real Cancer Perspectives
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    what is your cancer risk
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    prostate cancer overview
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    Actor Michael Douglas