Why Female Smokers are at a High Risk for Oral Cancer: Unpacking the Dangers

Understanding the Link: Female Smokers and the High Risk of Oral Cancer

Your smile is often one of the first things people notice. Whether you’re laughing, posing for a photo, or simply brimming with joy, a radiant smile speaks volumes. For women, it’s not just about aesthetics; it’s a powerful expression of happiness, health, and confidence that resonates with others. However, behind this outward expression lies a hidden risk to women’s health that is more prevalent than previously believed. A recent study reports that “female smokers have a higher risk [of oral cancer] than males.” In light of this high risk of oral cancer, particularly for female smokers, it’s imperative to understand the facts and take proactive measures to safeguard your health.

The Risks of Smoking

Let’s start with the obvious culprit: tobacco. The unsettling truth is the risk for oral cancer is ten times higher for smokers compared to nonsmokers—regardless of gender. Beyond oral cancer, smoking also increases the risk of gum disease and tooth loss. It’s important to note that these risks don’t just stop with cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, also known as chewing tobacco or snuff, contains at least 28 carcinogens and can lead to a range of oral health issues, including gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.

Additionally, it can cause the formation of white or gray patches inside the mouth, known as leukoplakia, that can progress to cancer. E-cigarettes or vapes, while still relatively new to the scene, are also harmful. Despite being marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, they still pose significant risks to oral health. These devices contain nicotine, which can restrict blood flow to the gums and lead to an increased risk of gum disease

The chemicals present in e-cigarettes can irritate gum tissues and contribute to inflammation and other oral health issues. According to the CDC, e-cigarette aerosols contain harmful substances such as nicotine, heavy metals like lead, and volatile organic compounds, all of which can have detrimental effects on oral tissues when inhaled. Formaldehyde, another known component of e-cigarettes, is a recognized carcinogen that can cause cellular damage and inflammation in the oral cavity.

Acrolein, a highly reactive chemical used in herbicides, is often found in e-cigarettes and can irritate the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat, potentially leading to conditions such as dry mouth, chronic inflammation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and lung cancer. 

Especially for female smokers, it’s crucial to recognize that all forms of tobacco use, including smoking, smokeless tobacco, and vaping, have detrimental effects on oral health. Taking steps toward quitting the habit can be the first line of defense in protecting your oral and overall wellness.

HPV and Oral Cancer 

While traditionally associated with cervical cancer, studies from the CDC have shown a strong association between Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and oral cancer. This association is particularly concerning for female smokers, who face heightened risks. Viruses and fungi contracted from tobacco used by smokers are often identified as triggers for oral cancer, with areas of the mouth associated with HPV directly linked to the onset and progression of the disease.

Oral Cancer Screenings and Preventative Care

Oral cancer can manifest in various ways, typically occurring in areas such as the throat, cheeks, gums, and lips. However, tumors can also develop in less commonly recognized locations like the floor of the mouth, buccal mucosa (the lining of the cheeks and the back of the lips, inside the mouth where they touch the teeth), and mucosal surface of the lip (the “wet” part of the lip that touches the teeth).

Oral cancer has also been detected in regions like the retromolar triangle (the triangular area located after the last molar), hard palate (which separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavities), alveolus (the minute air sacs at the end of the tiny branches of air tubes in the lungs), and anterior two-thirds of the tongue.

Given the complexity of these potential sites and the high risk of oral cancer facing female smokers, it’s important to talk to your dentist about getting a screening for oral cancer. Without annual screenings (like for a mammogram) oral cancer isn’t seen until it’s in its latest stages. At this stage, significant removal of tissue is often required often resulting in severely disfiguring surgeries of the face and neck. This proactive step can help detect abnormalities early on for timely intervention.

Prioritize Healthy Choices 

You can also help to decrease the risk of oral cancer by prioritizing healthy choices and overall well-being. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, regular exercise, proper hydration, and sufficient sleep, is essential for keeping the body strong and disease-free. Studies show that people who exercise regularly are 54% less likely to develop periodontitis compared to those who do not exercise.

Practices like meditation and deep breathing are linked to improved mental health, reduced stress levels, and enhanced cognitive function. Most of all, it’s essential to steer clear of harmful substances like tobacco, excessive alcohol, and illicit drugs for a healthier mouth—and life. 

Early Detection Makes for a Great Start

It’s important to note that while female smokers are at a higher risk, all genders that smoke or use tobacco products are at a high risk of oral cancer. “Knowledge is power,” and nothing puts you in control of your health like learning the honest facts. Early detection not only allows you to know your status early on but also enables you to seek treatment before an issue worsens. 

Empower yourself with the tools to learn the recommended methods of tobacco reduction and how to prevent oral cancer from spreading, get referrals for HPV screenings, and look to a trusted and experienced dentist to identify the signs of oral cancer. After all, great oral health goes beyond a beautiful smile.

If you feel you are at risk for oral cancer, it’s time to get proactive about your health. Contact us today for your annual oral cancer screening consultation.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!