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30% of people with mouth cancer drink excessively. Excessive drinking means more than 21 units of alcohol per week. That’s about 7 large glasses of wine or 11 cans of medium-strength lager.
Alcohol works in the following ways:
- It dries out the skin of the mouth and makes it more porous
- It is broken down by bacteria in the mouth to make cancer-causing chemicals
- It is broken down within the body to produce chemicals which are poisonous to cells and damage their DNA
- Many people who drink large amounts of alcohol neglect to eat properly. Poor diet is also a risk factor for mouth cancer
Alcohol and Tobacco Together
Drinking alcohol and smoking at the same time increases the risk of mouth cancer about 30 times. This is because:
- Alcohol affects the skin of the mouth allowing tobacco toxins to pass through more easily
- Tobacco smoke contains formaldehyde, a poisonous chemical similar to acetaldehyde produced by the breakdown of alcohol.
These two chemicals together can overwhelm the body’s defence mechanisms.