Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer

I routinely examine my patients for signs of oral cancer.  In 2010 there were about 36,000 new cases of oral and pharyngeal cancer (OPC) in the U.S. and over 7,000 deaths.  Prevention includes early detection of premalignant changes in the oral mucosa.

But you can also assist in prevention.  An article in the February, 2011 Journal of the American Dental Association reported on “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”  A diet high in fruits and vegetables is protective against OPC.  Vitamin C and E have antioxidant properties and may prevent DNA damage because they reduce exposure to the free radicals of oxygen.    Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients which may act synergistically to prevent OPC and other cancers.  In contrast, nitrites in processed meats form nitrosamines which are carcinogenic and increase the risk of developing cancer.  The protective dietary factors of antioxidant vitamins, carotenoids, lycopene and fiber occur in plant foods: whole grains, nuts, legume, vegetables and fruits.  A plant food diet also minimizes pathogenic dietary factors including saturated fat and animal protein and nitrates.  Salted meat, processed meat and animal fat all increase the risk of oral cancer.  Dietary supplements are not a substitute for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

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