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Alcohol and mouth cancer

Key Points

  • Highlights that it is not alcohol but rather the first metabolite of alcohol, acetaldehyde, which is the most important carcinogen.

  • Suggests that patients should be made aware of their alcohol unit intake (eg, consider keeping an alcohol diary or using an app).

  • Suggests alcohol containing mouthwashes are essentially safe (being associated with a slightly increased risk of mouth cancer if used more than twice a day and for greater than 35 years).


There is now considered to be no safe limit for alcohol intake. Studies have shown that risk of mouth cancer increases with greater alcohol intake (in particular when associated with the use of tobacco). This paper reviews the role for alcohol in the aetiology of mouth cancer both in terms of how it may give rise to cancerous change and the relative risk it carries (arising from various systematic and meta-analyses reported over the last decade). While obtaining a reliable alcohol history can be problematic (with under reporting frequently suspected) greater awareness of the role of alcohol in both local and systemic disease (in particular that of cancer in an ever increasing number of sites) may serve as a motivator for behaviour change within our patients. To that end patients should be aware of the alcohol content in the drinks they consume and consider recording their alcohol intake over a defined period (eg, use of a diary or app over a two to four week period).

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Correspondence to G. R. Ogden.

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Competing interests

The author is a member of the Medical Advisory Panel for Drinkaware.

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Ogden, G. Alcohol and mouth cancer. Br Dent J 225, 880–883 (2018).

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