Oral cancer typically occurs in people who have one or more risk factors. The two most common risk factors include tobacco use which includes cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoking in addition to snuff or chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol consumption.
Family history of cancer and sun exposure (especially for lip cancer) are other less significant risk factors. Men are generally more likely to develop oral cancer than women. African-American and Hispanic men are more likely than Caucasian men to develop oral cancer. Non-smokers under age 50 who have been exposed to human papilloma virus (HPV) infections are also at risk.