The popular drink that could increase the risk of mouth cancer – labeled ‘carcinogenic’ by the NHS

There are several risk factors for developing oral cancer, including what you drink. If a drink is described as “carcinogenic”, it means that the drink contains chemicals that can damage the DNA of cells. An accumulation of DNA damage can lead to all types of tumors, including oral cancer.

According to the NHS, a popular carcinogenic drink is alcohol, which can be consumed in wines, beers, spirits and liqueurs.

The Mouth Cancer Foundation says that 30% of people with the condition “drink excessively.”

Drinking excessively, in this context, is considered “more than 21 units of alcohol per week”.

The charity says: “That’s about seven tall glasses of wine or 11 cans of medium-strength lager.”

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Alcohol “dries out the skin of the mouth and makes it more porous”, and it is “broken down by bacteria in the mouth to make cancer-causing chemicals”.

The combination of alcohol and tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer by about “30 times”.

This is because alcohol affects the skin of the mouth, allowing tobacco toxins to pass more easily.

And tobacco smoke “contains formaldehyde, a toxic chemical similar to acetaldehyde produced by the breakdown of alcohol.”


Oral cancer

The tumor can grow on the surface of the tongue, inside the cheeks, on the roof of the mouth, and on the lips or gums.

Tumors can also develop in the glands that produce salvia, the tonsils, or the trachea.

Symptoms of oral cancer can include:

  • Mouth ulcers that are painful and do not heal within a few weeks
  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth or neck that do not go away
  • Loose teeth or unexplained sockets that do not heal after extractions
  • Unexplained and persistent numbness or strange sensation on the lip or tongue
  • Sometimes white or red patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue
  • Changes in speech, such as a lisp.

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The NHS recommends seeing a “GP or dentist if these symptoms do not improve within three weeks, particularly if you are drinking”.

If oral cancer is diagnosed early, a “complete cure” is often possible in nine out of ten cases.

Surgery tends to be the main treatment for the disease, but a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be needed.

The NHS adds: “Overall, around six in 10 people with oral cancer will live for at least five years after their diagnosis, and many will live much longer without the cancer coming back.”

Besides alcohol consumption and smoking, another risk factor for oral cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV).

There are over 100 different types of HPV, which can be caught through any type of sexual contact with another person who already has it.

“Most people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives and their body will clear it naturally without treatment,” the NHS says.

“But some people infected with a high-risk type of HPV won’t be able to clear it.”

High-risk HPV is not only linked to oral cancer, but also to cancer of the cervix, anus, and penis.

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