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Health Information

Oral Cancer Awareness Month

The last April awareness month we’ll be highlighting is Oral Cancer Month. Tobacco (smoked and smokeless) use is one factor that increases the chance that someone develops oral cancer. We haven’t talked much about smokeless tobacco. So, this post will highlight its impacts.

Smokeless Tobacco Basics

Smokeless tobacco is a noncombustible and is usually placed between the gum and cheek or lip when used. Chewing tobacco and snuff (including snus) are the two main types of traditionally marketed smokeless tobacco. Some Alaska Native communities use a product known as Iq’mik. Check out our Native American Heritage Month post for more info on Iq’mik.

Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer1

Smokeless tobacco can cause mouth, esophagus, and pancreas cancer. Cancer-causing chemicals in smokeless tobacco include:

  • Tobacco-specific nitrosamines. These are formed during the growing, curing, fermenting, and aging of tobacco. Amounts vary by product.
  • Polonium 210. This is a radioactive element found in tobacco fertilizer
  • Polynuclear (polycyclic) aromatic hydrocarbons, which form when tobacco is cured with heat
  • Metals, such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, nickel, and mercury

Smokeless tobacco can also cause white or gray patches known as leukoplakia in the mouth, which can lead to cancer.

Smokeless Tobacco and Other Diseases1

Smokeless tobacco can also:

  • Cause gum disease, toothy decay, and tooth loss
  • Increase the risk for early delivery or stillbirth if used during pregnancy
  • Affect how a baby’s brain develops before birth if used during pregnancy
  • Increase the risk for death from heart disease and stroke
  • Cause nicotine poisoning in children

More research is needed to learn about the long-term impacts of newer smokeless tobacco, such as dissolvables and snus.

Smoking and Cancer2

While we focused primarily focused on smokeless tobacco, we want to acknowledge that oral cancer is one of the many cancers that can be caused by smoking combustible products. Smoking combustible products can also cause other oral health issues, such as gum disease.

I Want to Quit

I Want to Help Someone Quit

Healthcare professionals

  • Ask, Advise, Refer to Quit Don’t Switch ( free, one-hour, on-demand course that touches on tools and strategies for conducting an effective brief tobacco intervention with those who use tobacco. This course is accredited for 1 hour of Continuing Medical Education (CME) by Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services (RMCHCS) and 1 Continuing Education Unit (CEU) by the American Association of Respiratory Care.
  • ACT to Address Youth Cessation ( free, one-hour, on-demand course that touches on ways to provide a brief intervention for teens who use tobacco. School personnel and community members in youth/adolescent supportive roles are welcome to take this as well.

Anyone Who Wants to Help

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