People who chew on betel nuts are a high-risk group for contracting oral cancer. Betel nuts sold commercially, in addition to the areca nut — more commonly known as betel nut — usually also contain other ingredients including betel pepper, betel leaf, betel pepper vine, slacked lime and spices. Some people mistakenly believe it is these additives within betel nut preparations that cause damage to the mouth and throat. However guidance by the Ministry of Health and Welfare stresses that as early as 2003, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had already proved arcea nut is a group one carcinogen. Despite this, many people — especially the young — are unaware of this fact. In light of this, the ministry has launched a new campaign to encourage members of the public to kick the habit of chewing on betel nuts early to avoid long-term damage to their health.
Research by the IARC has proved that areca nut contains arecoline and arecaidine that, when mixed with saliva in the mouth, adheres to cell membranes and produces a carcinogenic substance. This means that even without the addition of any additives, chewing on areca nut may cause cancer within multiple areas of the body including the mouth, pharynx and esophagus. This is the reason why the nut is categorized as a group one carcinogen.
To help the public prevent and identify oral cancer at an early stage, anyone aged 30-and-above and Aborigines aged between 18-to-30 who use (or have previously used) betel nut, or smoked tobacco, are entitled to an oral cancer screening once every two years. According to the ministry, regular screening allows medical professionals to detect over 5,000 cases of precancer and confirmed cancer every year. Early treatment can prevent the cancer from spreading or becoming worse, and the survival rate for early intervention is as high as 80 percent, the ministry says.
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City and county-level health departments also organize ad-hoc education classes every year at hospitals and medical centers to help members of the public quit the betel nut habit. Hospitals also provide an outpatient service for quitting betel nuts, which people can make use of, to receive early treatment before it’s too late.
(Translated by Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
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