Actor's diagnosis highlights oral cancer risks

Actor Michael Douglas' recently disclosed diagnosis of oral cancer serves as an important reminder regarding the disease's risks, according to the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF).

The Oscar-winning actor has been diagnosed with a tumor in his throat and now faces eight weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Douglas quit smoking in 2006 after a long half-pack-a-day habit. Yet the possibility of developing oral cancer remains higher for ex-smokers than nonsmokers for 20 years after quitting, the BDHF said.

Tobacco is considered to be the main cause of mouth cancer, with three in four cases being linked to smoking. Drinking alcohol is also a known risk factor, with those who both smoke and drink to excess being up to 30 times more likely to be at risk.

Other risk factors include a poor diet. Research has shown that an increased intake of fish, vegetables, fruit, and eggs can help lower risks of cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) also is linked to the disease; U.S. studies have linked more than 20,000 cancer cases to HPV in the last five years. The virus can be transmitted via oral sex.

If Douglas' current treatment is unsuccessful, he will likely have to undergo a partial or complete laryngectomy, which can cause voice changes or the loss of voice completely, the BDHF said.

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