Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Surge in oral cancer cases due to tobacco

Oral cancer cases are rising at an alarming rate in the country. Tobacco consumption including smokeless tobacco, betel-quid chewing, excessive alcohol consumption, and unhygienic oral conditions are some of the risks for a higher incidence of oral cancer.

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World No Tobacco Day: Oral cancer is one of the most common noncommunicable diseases around the world. Tobacco is one of the well-known factors of oral cancer which is preventable

Oral cancer cases are rising at an alarming rate in the country. Tobacco consumption including smokeless tobacco, betel-quid chewing, excessive alcohol consumption, and unhygienic oral conditions are some of the risks for a higher incidence of oral cancer. Early detection is important to lower the mortality rate of patients with oral cancer. Regular dental check-ups and quitting tobacco will aid in timely diagnosis and prompt treatment, doctors say in the wake of World No Tobacco Day that is observed every year on May 31.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is an abnormal growth of tissues in the mouth that turn into cancer. It can spread from mouth to nose, neck area, and other parts of the body. In the beginning, the signs can be white or red spots in the mouth, sores on the tongue, lip, or mouth, bleeding in the mouth, swelling in the oral area, and difficulty in swallowing. It is an important health issue in India as it is one of the most common types of cancer affecting a large population, Dr Suhas Aagre, Oncologist and Hemato-Oncologist at Asian Cancer Institute said.

Risk factors

Tobacco consumption has been the predominant factor causing oral cancer. The use of tobacco in various forms such as gutka, zarda, mawa, kharra, khaini, cigarettes, bidi, and hookah is a major cause of tumour development in the oral cavity in both young and adults. Dr Aagre mentioned, “Mouth cancer is one of several types of cancers falling in the category of head and neck cancers. Tobacco is the prime cause of the occurrence of oral cancer in all age groups. All tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff, contain poisonous substances (toxins), cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), and nicotine, an addictive substance. There are at least 70 dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco products, getting exposed to these chemicals will lead to oral cancer.”

Despite widespread knowledge of the risk of tobacco exposure and use, it is responsible for a plethora of diseases, an alarming death rate, economic burden, and reduced quality of life,” said Dr Adwait Gore, medical oncologist, Zen Multi Speciality Hospital, Chembur.


Chewing tobacco, and keeping it for a long time in your mouth can cause a higher risk. If you have been consuming tobacco for a long time and notice symptoms like mouth pain, lip sores, or inability to swallow, non-healing ulcers, bleeding from ulcer, development of neck swelling, change in voice, difficulty in swallowing, then immediately see a doctor and get the required check-ups done. Other risk factors of oral cancer are poor oral hygiene, dental irritation, Human Papilloma viral infection, diabetes, and extensive usage of immunosuppressive medicines. “Cases are not just rising in rural areas, but in urban areas as well. Nowadays, there is a shocking trend seen wherein youngsters in the age group of 20-30 are affected with oral cancer,” Dr Aagre noted.

Dr Khozema Fatehi, head and neck, oral oncosurgeon, SRV Hospital, Chembur highlighted that India has a huge burden of oral cancer cases as the use of tobacco is directly associated with approximately 80 per cent of oral cancers in men and women. “Youngsters are increasingly consuming smokeless tobacco either due to imitation and/or peer pressure. The lack of awareness about early oral cancer symptoms is the main reason for cancer being detected at later stages. Early detection improves the chances of survival,” Dr Fatehi said.


The treatment of oral cancer includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.


Oral cancer itself is preventable. Quitting tobacco and other steps can ensure cancer prevention.

“To keep oral cancer at bay, one will have to give up on tobacco. Avoid smoking by opting for a smoking cessation therapy, get enough rest, and eat a well-balanced diet inclusive of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and pulses. Cut down on spicy, junk, oily, and processed foods, seek support and encouragement from family, and friends, and don’t miss your regular dental check-ups and regular follow-ups,” concluded Dr Aagre.

“Most people with oral cancer have a history of smoking or other tobacco exposure, like chewing tobacco. Oral tobacco products (snuff, dip, spit, chew, or dissolvable tobacco) are associated with the cancers of the cheek, gums, floor of the mouth (under the tongue), and the inner surface of lips. A large number of people chew gutka, which is a mixture of betel quid and tobacco, and are prone to cancer of the mouth.

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