Is your culture giving you oral cancer?

Cultural habits, such as smoking, and chewing tobacco or areca nuts, may put different ethnic groups at a higher risk for developing invasive squamous cell carcinoma according to an epidemiologic study of oral cancer in ethnic subpopulations in California.

Conducted by researchers at USC's School of Dentistry, and Keck School of Medicine, the study found that African-American and Caucasian men who had the highest rates of smoking also had the highest rate of tongue cancer. The South Asian community's susceptibility to developing oral cancer in the inner cheek could be linked to the culture of chewing tobacco or areca nut. And Filipino women were at a high risk for palatal cancer because of reverse smoking habits (when the lit part of the cigarette is inside the mouth).

Satish Kumar and Parish Sedghizadeh, clinical professors in the School of Dentistry’s Division of Diagnostic Sciences, and Lihua Liu from the Keck School’s Department of Preventive Medicine, came to these conclusions after poring over the California Cancer Registry's recorded cases of invasive squamous cell carcinoma from 1998 to 2001.

The researchers divided the population into Non-Hispanic (NH) White, Hispanic White, Non-Hispanic (NH) Black, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, South Asians, and Vietnamese. Then they looked at cancer development in the tongue, gum, floor of mouth, palate, and in areas of the mouth not otherwise specified.

"From what we know of how the cancer develops, we can extrapolate that cultural habits and lifestyle choices are directly linked to the prevalence of oral cancer in certain groups," said Kumar in a USC news article.

"If we are aware that certain subsets are getting a particular kind of oral cancer, we can develop educational materials tailored to that particular risk activity and that particular group," said Sedghizadeh in the same article.

These findings will be published in the upcoming issue of Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontology.

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