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Oral Oncol. 2009 Apr-May;45(4-5):340-50. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2008.05.018. Epub 2008 Jul 31.

Lifestyle risk factors for oral cancer.

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Department of Public Health Sciences G. Sanarelli, Sapienza University, P.le Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Rome, Italy.


The "style of life is the unique way in which individuals try to realize their fictional final goal and meet or avoid the three main tasks of life: work, community, love" (Alfred Adler, founder of the Individual Psychology). Lifestyle refers to the way individuals live their lives and how they handle problems and interpersonal relations. The lifestyle behaviours associated to oral cancer with convincing evidence are tobacco use, betel quid chewing, alcohol drinking, low fruit and vegetable consumption (the detrimental lifestyle is high fat and/or sugar intake, resulting in low fruit and/or vegetable intake). Worldwide, 25% of oral cancers are attributable to tobacco usage (smoking and/or chewing), 7-19% to alcohol drinking, 10-15% to micronutrient deficiency, more than 50% to betel quid chewing in areas of high chewing prevalence. Carcinogenicity is dose-dependent and magnified by multiple exposures. Conversely, low and single exposures do not significantly increase oral cancer risk. These behaviours have common characteristics: (i) they are widespread: one billion men, 250 million women smoke cigarettes, 600-1200 million people chew betel quid, two billion consume alcohol, unbalanced diet is common amongst developed and developing countries; (ii) they were already used by animals and human forerunners millions of years ago because they were essential to overcome conditions such as cold, hunger, famine; their use was seasonal and limited by low availability, in contrast with the pattern of consumption of the modern era, characterized by routine, heavy usage, for recreational activities and with multiple exposures; (iii) their consumption in small doses is not recognized as detrimental by the human body and activates the dopaminergic reward system of the brain, thus giving instant pleasure, "liking" (overconsumption) and "wanting" (craving). For these reasons, effective Public Health measures aimed at preventing oral cancer and other lifestyle-related conditions fail to realize their final goal to eradicate these lifestyles. Following Adler's theory and the principles of the "Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion", conditions such as education, sustainable resources, social justice, and equity must be satisfied before the implementation of physical health promotion campaigns.

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