Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



The biggest risk factors for oral cancer are smoking and using smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco). Drinking alcohol is another big risk factor. If you smoke or chew tobacco and drink alcohol, your risk is even higher.

If you smoke or chew tobacco, get the help you need to stop. If you smoke or chew tobacco now or did so in the past, watch for symptoms. Ask your doctor or dentist to check your mouth at least once a year for abnormal areas, so that cancer can be found early.

Cancer of the lip is linked to too much time in the sun. If you are outside a lot, especially as part of your job, take these steps to protect yourself:

  • Try to avoid the sun during the midday hours, when it's strongest.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.

  • Use sunscreen and a lip balm that protect against ultraviolet light.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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