Baseball Major Leaguer Loses Battle With Oral Cancer

Posted on Jun 17, 2014 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

There was sad news for baseball fans recently. Tony Gwynn of the Padres died of oral cancer, something Gwynn blames on his use of smokeless tobacco. Apparently, the habit is rampant throughout Major League baseball teams.

A 1999 survey found that nearly a third of Major League rookies were regular smokeless tobacco users (primarily chew and snuff). Other studies found that approximately 30% of all players were smokeless tobacco users. Recognizing the growing trend and the message it sent to young fans, the MLB set forth rules regarding the use of these products. Still, in 2012, approximately 11% of high school boys were using smokeless tobacco.

Users typically tuck chewing tobacco or snuff in the side of their mouths and spit out the juices. Snuff is occasionally inhaled (snorted) through the nose. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention points out that these products contain 28 carcinogens, a known cause of oral cancer.

Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, which began in his salivary gland. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation to fight this aggressive cancer. Unfortunately, it had progressed too far. Oral cancer has one of the worst survival rates of all cancers, taking the life of one American every hour.

Smokeless tobacco users become physically dependent on and emotionally addicted to nicotine. Nicotine, the addictive substance found in cigarettes, occurs naturally in all tobacco. Those who try to quit go through a withdrawal phase, which can cause weeks of depression, headaches, irritability, weight gain and dizziness.

As hard as it may be to quit, reducing the risk of oral cancer is worth it. Users should immediately react to any spot or sore in the mouth or on the lips. Also, a persistent sore throat or difficulty swallowing are symptoms that should be checked immediately. When treated early, oral cancer is survivable.

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