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.