Causes of Mouth Cancer

What are some causes of mouth cancer?

Some of the known causes of mouth cancer include:

  • Using tobacco– Tobacco is the most dangerous of the known causes of mouth cancer. Your risk of developing mouth cancer increases based on the amount you smoke, dip or chew and the length of time you have done it. Lifelong smokers and chewers are at a much higher risk than those who seldom smoke or chew. However, those who do no use tobacco at all are at a much lower risk of developing mouth cancer. Cigarettes, dip, snuff, cigars and pipes are all common instruments of tobacco intake. Not only is tobacco one of the top causes of mouth cancer it can also cause cancer in the larynx, lungs, esophagus, kidneys, bladder and other organs.
  • Heavy use of alcohol– Alcohol is the second most common of the known causes of mouth cancer. According to the American Cancer Society about 7 our of 10 mouth cancer patients are heavy drinkers and some studies show that one may be as much as 100 times more at risk for mouth cancer if he or she drinks and uses tobacco.
  • Human Papilloma Virus– HPV is a collective term used to describe a group of over 100 viruses that are often spread through sexual contact. Most of the strains cause warts on the body, but some are believed to cause cancer in the mouth, throat and cervix. Most HPV infections in the mouth do not develop into cancer, but the number of diagnosed cases has been on the rise of the past few years. While it is most often found to be the cause of throat cancers, it is still believed to be one of the causes of mouth cancer. The number of cancers connected to HPV have been on the rise over the past few years and most cases are found in young people. This increase is attributed to an increase and change of sexual practices.

Some of the risk factors for mouth cancer include:

  • Gender– Mouth cancer is about twice as likely to develop in men than in women. This is believe to be because more men than women, smoke, dip and drink heavily.
  • Age– Mouth cancer is most common in patients over 55, although because of HPV it is being found more and more often in younger people
  • Poor Nutrition– It is believed that a diet low in fruits and vegetables increases one’s risk of developing mouth cancer and other oral cancers
  • Weakened Immune System– A weakened immune system can be genetic, caused by AIDS or by certain types of medicines.

Questionable Risk Factors and Causes of Mouth Cancer

The following items have been identified as possible risk factors although they are still all very controversial and unproven.

  • Mouthwash with a high alcohol content
  • Irritation from ill fitting dentures

Doctors do not know what causes all cases of mouth cancer. If you partake in one of the known causes of mouth cancer or are at a high risk it does not necessarily mean that you will develop mouth cancer. However, not having a risk factor does not guarantee that you will not develop mouth cancer. While some of the risk factors cannot be prevented, staying away from the known causes of mouth cancer it is best way to decrease your chance of developing cancer in your mouth.

Want more information on the causes of mouth cancer?

Because mouth cancer and oral cancer are often considered the same thing, we recommend visiting our Causes of Oral Cancer page.

Also, our Mouth Cancer Resources page will connect you to other reputable sites with studies and research on mouth cancer and its causes.

The pages listed below focus on other aspects of mouth cancer and may be helpful to better understand the disease.


Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed January 4, 2012.

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    All content on this site is for general information purposes only. It is not and should not be considered medical advice or used in place of the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a doctor or other professional for any medical condition.