While mouth cancer mortality rates have declined as a whole here in the United States, in certain states such as North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Maine, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nevada, the deaths caused by mouth cancer have risen quite significantly. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom over the last two decades, mouth cancer rates have increased by 68 percent. With increased awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles and less people than ever resorting to tobacco products, one might conclude that the risk of getting mouth cancer would be on the decline worldwide. However, a study recently published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine has uncovered a new risk factor for mouth cancer that may be the answer to why these rates have soared so dramatically over the past two decades. Here’s what you need to know.
There’s a New Risk Factor in Town
There are several factors that can put someone at risk for mouth cancer, including alcohol and tobacco use – especially chewing tobacco or “snuff” – HPV (human papillomavirus), and betel quid (a mix of natural ingredients wrapped in a leaf). In fact, in India, where chewing betel quid is extremely popular, mouth cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men ages 30-69. Recently, scientists funded by the Taiwanese Ministry of Science and Technology have begun researching a new potential risk factor for mouth cancer – air pollution.
The team of researchers focused on the impact of fine particular matter located in air pollution, better known as PM2.5. The matter is named PM2.5 because they are particles of liquid or solid matter that measure 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. It is a known fact that PM2.5 negatively impacts our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Now, scientists believe that PM2.5 may also increase the risk for mouth cancer.
How Scientists Found a Link Between Air Pollution and Mouth Cancer
Between 2012 and 2013, scientists gathered data from 66 air-quality monitoring stations across Taiwan, as well as information from 482,659 men. They found that, while smoking tobacco and chewing betel quid increased their risk of getting mouth cancer, exposure to PM2.5 air pollution also increased their risk of mouth cancer. In fact, higher levels of PM2.5 are associated with a 43 percent increased risk of developing mouth cancer.
According to the researchers’ published findings in Journal of Investigative Medicine, this study, with its large sample size, “…is the first to associate mouth cancer with PM2.5. […] These findings add to the growing evidence on the adverse effects of PM2.5 on human health.”
What’s Next in Research?
Researchers have identified the correlation between PM2.5 and an increased risk of mouth cancer. They conclude that PM 2.5 may increase the risk of mouth cancer because the particles have such a small diameter, making them easy for the body to absorb and, subsequently, cause damage as they travel through the body. Other theories conclude that these particulates contain carcinogenic ingredients and heavy metals. However, because this was an observational study, more research must be done to definitively determine that pollution causes mouth cancer, as well as exactly how much PM2.5 enters the mouth from air pollution. This study was an excellent start to some groundbreaking research on new risk factors for mouth cancer.
The doctors and staff at Rockville Concierge Doctors in Rockville, MD, are experts in evaluating patients’ risk for diseases, including cancer. We care about your health and well-being, and look forward to offering you top-notch primary care with a personalized, patient-centered approach. If you have any questions or to make a meet-and-greet appointment, please call our office at (301) 545-1811, or if you are an established patient you can use our secure online appointment request form.