Oral Cancer Toolkit

Improve your ability to prevent and detect oral cancer

Risk factors and prevention

The incidence of oral cancer is increasing. Learn more about risk factors and how oral cancer can be prevented in this section.

There are many risk factors for oral cancer including:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco or betel quid (areca nut) use
  • alcohol consumption
  • genetics (such as rare bone marrow conditions)
  • human papillomavirus infection
  • Around two-thirds of all cancers of the oral cavity, nasopharynx and pharynx could be prevented
  • Just under half of all oral cavity cancers are linked to potentially avoidable risk factors like smoking and alcohol

Do you find it a challenge to discuss oral cancer risk factors and prevention with your patients? In this video, a dentist and a GP explain how to initiate a conversation and more.


Cancer Research UK would like to acknowledge the following clinicians for their invaluable input into the development of the Oral Cancer Toolkit: Professor Richard Shaw, Professor Peter Brennan, Professor Saman Warnakulasuriya, Dr Afsana Safa, Mr Craig Wales, Professor Mark McGurk, Professor Crispian Scully, Dr Nigel Carter, Dr Bijay Rajlawat and Dr Caroline McCarthy.

Medical knowledge and the legislative framework are constantly changing. As new information becomes available changes in treatment, procedures, equipment and the use of drugs is necessary. The authors and editors have, as far as it is possible, taken care to ensure that the information given in this module is accurate and up to date at the time it was created. However, users are strongly advised to confirm that the information complies with current legislation and standards of practice.

Date of preparation: October 2018

Patient case studies

To learn more about diagnosing and referring oral cancer, read case studies from Richard Shaw, Professor of Head and Neck Surgery, University of Liverpool and Aintree University Hospital NHS Trust.

View case studies

Oral cancer risk factors

Some of the risk factors associated with oral cancer include:

  • age
  • tobacco use (smoking and chewing)
  • betel quid (areca nut) use
  • alcohol consumption
  • human papillomavirus infection

What do you think?

Your comments will help to improve this toolkit.