Although tobacco use has been proven to increase the risk of oral cancer, people who use both alcohol and tobacco are at an especially high risk of contracting the disease.Scientists now believe that these substances synergistically interact, increasing each other's harmful effects.
Alcohol abuse (when defined as more than 21 standard drinks in one week) is already thesecond largest risk factor for the development of oral cancer. More than 30 years ago, a study focusing on heavy alcohol consumption as a significant factor in the development of cancer also found that inUtah, a state whose population is approximately two-thirds Mormon, incidences of oral cancer were less than that of other western states. In fact, the rate was less than the nation as a whole. Thisis likely due to the Mormons' religious beliefs requiring them to abstain completely from alcohol and tobacco.
Alcohol's effect on the mouth may be the key to understanding how it works with tobaccoto increase the risk of developing cancer. The dehydrating effect of alcohol on cell walls enhances the ability of tobacco carcinogens to permeate mouth tissues; additionally, nutritional deficienciesassociated with heavy drinking can lower the body's natural ability to use antioxidants to prevent the formation of cancers.
Oral surgeons at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say they havefound statistical evidence to support these claims. Some studies have even indicated that cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol intake, may be associated with an increased risk for oral cancer. Patientswith cirrhosis often develop a smooth, glossy appearance to the oral mucosae (tissues of the throat and mouth) that may be caused by liver-induced cellular changes such as increased cytoplasmicacetaldehyde content. The actual mechanism for this occurrence, and the relationship to the development of a cancer, is still poorly understood, but warrants further investigation.
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