Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Betel nut use raises risk of oral cancer six-fold: study

Betel nut use raises risk of oral cancer six-fold: study

A dentist inspects a woman’s mouth last year at a Phnom Penh dental clinic.
A dentist inspects a woman’s mouth last year at a Phnom Penh dental clinic. Charlotte Pert

Betel nut use raises risk of oral cancer six-fold: study

Cambodian betel nut chewers are six times more at risk of contracting potentially malignant oral cancers, according to a new report.

The study surveyed 1,634 people in Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Pursat and Stung Treng and found that 54 percent had oral lesions – white or red swellings, ulcers or abnormalities in the mouth.

Though most were benign, the research revealed that 5.6 percent of those surveyed had oral cancers or lesions that could potentially become cancerous.

While the study found consuming alcohol did not carry a significant risk of developing a potentially malignant mouth lesion, those who drank alcohol in tandem with a smoking or chewing betel quid – which usually contains tobacco – increased their risk five-fold.

The study, Prevalence of oral cancer, oral potentially malignant disorders and other oral mucosal lesions in Cambodia, was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Ethnicity and Health early last week.

Callum Durward, one of the report’s several authors and head of the dentistry department at Puthisastra University, said the study was also an opportunity to train dentists to identify a cancer risk early and thus increase their patients’ chances of survival.

“Most of the time, the oral cancer presents very late, so it’s already a huge ulcerated swelling by the time they see [a medical professional],” Durward said. “People should look in their own mouths . . . if they see a swelling, or a white patch, it’s a very good idea to have a biopsy.

“Even if they are benign – not cancer – they can become cancer later, especially if the risk factors continue.”

Durward added that oral cancers are one of the top five cancer killers in the Kingdom.

Dentist Heng Someth, who runs the private clinic Standard Dental Surgery, said despite the prevalence of mouth cancers, oral health was not high on the Health Ministry’s agenda.

“Most people think anything related to teeth or oral health is aesthetic, that it’s not a major problem,” he said. “The Ministry of Health also [puts] oral health in the bottom line . . . we should not be bottom of the list.”

He added public education was of “prime importance” and that practical, post-graduate training for young dentists could save lives.

Tepirou Chher, head of the Health Ministry’s Oral Health Bureau, also co-authored the report but could not be reached for comment. Other ministry officials did not respond to requests for comment.

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior