Many people turn to chewing tobacco as a way to cut down the harm from smoking cigarettes. However, chew and all tobacco products have a severe association with cancer, particularly cancers of the head and neck. Nearly 48,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Of these patients, only 57% will be living five years after their diagnosis.
Oral cancer comprises 85% of all head and neck cancers (all those except brain cancer, which is its own category). The high rate and severity of mouth cancer is solidly linked to the use of spit tobacco products, which is also linked to laryngeal, pharyngeal, esophageal, stomach, and pancreatic cancers. Approximately 90% of people with mouth cancer are tobacco users.
The particularly high death rate of mouth cancer patients is not because this type of cancer is particularly hard to diagnose, but because it is most commonly discovered late in its development. Many patients do not notice the early symptoms, as they often manifest without pain or discomfort. Because of this, mouth cancers have a high risk of producing second, primary tumors. Patients who survive their first bout of mouth cancer have a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer within the following 5 to 10 years.
Each year, 10 to 16 million Americans risk their health by using spit tobacco products. Mouth cancer in particular is primarily a lifestyle disease, meaning that the majority of cases are related to tobacco and alcohol use. People who discontinue tobacco use, even after years of use, can significantly reduce their risk of all smoking and tobacco related illnesses, including mouth cancer. The best way to drop your risk for these cancers is to never start smoking or chewing tobacco in any form.