no smoking

By Dr. Vijay Aditya Yadaraju, Radiation Oncology, HCG Cancer Hospital, Visakhapatnam

Smoking, chewing, or snuffing tobacco and nicotine-based products may be perceived as ‘cool’ for some onlookers, but it is not, and these leaves in any form, be it cigarettes, cigars, or snuff can play havoc with one’s health, at any age! Tobacco is a widespread epidemic costing millions of lives worldwide annually and it may be astonishing that even those exposed to passive smoke bear the equal brunt as direct, active users.

Despite many awareness campaigns and advertisements worldwide and that mandatory reel before starting a movie in the theatres in our country, tobacco usage is rampant. It is, unfortunately, picking up among the youth. Doctors, time and again, insist on quitting, and therefore it is time to ponder about the aftermath of a puff and a snuff, here is how tobacco can lead to oral cancer.

Diseases Caused By Tobacco:

Tobacco usage is the primary reason behind many types of cancer, including lung and oral, and a significant trigger behind cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic lung infections, vision and hearing loss, dental issues, etc. That is because, be it cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, and even chewable material, they are all chock-a-block with poisonous toxic substances, cancer-causing agents-carcinogens, and nicotine – an addictive substance, a crucial component in all these products.

Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco usage, causing about 90% of all lung cancers, and it increases the risk of oral cancer by ten times compared to non-smokers. Cigars and pipes are no good either, as they can trigger the tumours related to the oral cavity, throat or voice box, oesophagus, and of course, lungs. Chewing tobacco and snuff in the form of leaves packed into pouches, expedite the chances of getting affected by cancers of lips, cheek, and gums multi-fold besides oesophageal and pancreatic cancers.

Ill-effects of Tobacco leading to Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a type of head and neck cancer that starts in the mouth cavity, either on the tongue, lower lip, gum, and jaw or on the floor of the mouth when abnormal cells begin growing out of control. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common oral cancer. While it is often found on the floor of the mouth and tongue for men, it is detected on the tongue and gums for women. Oral cancer is of various types and can affect all genders.

Though mostly detected among the age group 45 and above, doctors these days are unfortunately witnessing a growing number of cases in those below 30 years. There are various types of oral cancer and like in any other type of cancer, early diagnosis is the key to eliminating it completely.

Symptoms of oral cancer initially mimic some regular blisters in red and white colours but can spread to other parts of the oral cavity if not addressed on time. Ever wondered about the role of tobacco in causing oral cancer, one should understand these products are loaded with carcinogens. When they enter the body, these chemicals trigger genetic changes in the mouth cavity leading to oral cancer. Besides genetic differences, the smoke that is emitted out of burnt tobacco releases radioactive materials, when inhaled, can cause cancer to both active and passive smokers.

And if one thinks, cigars, chewing tobacco, and getting used to smokeless tobacco products like snuff may not be cancerous, think again! The combination of nitrate and nitrite, notoriously known as cancer-causing substances along with tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) cost the same peril caused by cigarettes and in the same breath!

The only way possible to prevent oral cancer is to quit tobacco and adopt a healthy lifestyle right now! Giving up on tobacco addiction leaves an incredibly positive impact on health by preventing cancers and reversing various chronic conditions. Seek help from counsellors and join rehabilitation, if the problem of giving up prolongs for a longer time. Talk to clinicians and doctors to understand more about the ill effects of tobacco, and do not hesitate to seek information. Remember, prevention is better than cure!