Aetiology of oral cancer: alcohol

Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 1998 Aug;36(4):247-51. doi: 10.1016/s0266-4356(98)90707-0.


The effect of alcohol alone on the oral mucosa and its association with the development of oral cancer is difficult to establish, principally because alcohol consumption histories are difficult to verify, alter over time, both with respect to beverage type and quantity, and are frequently confounded by tobacco use. This review considers the various pathways by which alcohol may exert such an influence. Namely, due to topical exposure (e.g. direct effect on cell membranes, altered cell permeability, variation in enzymes that metabolise alcohol) and/or systemic effects (e.g. nutritional deficiency, immunological deficiency, disturbed liver function). Finally, the numerous papers that have sought to establish the relative risk for oral cancer in association with alcohol intake are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcoholic Beverages / adverse effects*
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / drug effects
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes / complications
  • Liver Diseases / complications
  • Mouth Mucosa / drug effects
  • Mouth Mucosa / pathology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Nutrition Disorders / complications
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Ethanol