Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol. Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking are the main forms of tobacco use in many parts of the world. However, the traditional habits in some cultures of chewing tobacco, betel quid, gutkha and paan are particularly dangerous.
Alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer, and if tobacco and alcohol are taken together the risk is even greater.
Over-exposure to sunlight can also increase the risk of cancer of the lips.
Many recent reports have linked mouth cancer to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and affects the skin that lines the moist areas of the body.
HPV can be spread through oral sex, and research now suggests that HPV could soon rival smoking and drinking as one of the main causes of mouth cancer.
Practising safe sex and limiting the number of partners you have may help reduce your chances of getting HPV. Many people get HPV during their lives and for many this does not cause a problem.
There are now HPV vaccines for both girls and boys. They were developed to fight cervical cancer, but it is likely that they will also help to reduce the rates of mouth cancer. These vaccines are given at age 12 to 13 before sexual activity starts.