HPV and Oral Cancer
If you are a smoker and abuse alcohol you should be concerned about these traditional risk factors for oral cancer. We are now faced with an epidemic of oral cancer developing in younger, non-smokers and non-heavy drinkers caused by a common viral infection.
Research now shows links between human papilloma virus (HPV-16) and the rising occurrence of oropharyngeal cancer.
Oral or pharyngeal cancers will be diagnosed in 49,750 Americans this year. Oral cancer is universally found in persons of all ages and backgrounds.
In this country, the responsibility of oral cancer screening has fallen on general dentists. Every person should undergo routine visual and touch oral cancer examination at every dental examination visit. Routine visual screening and palpation of high risk areas should be performed on every patient.
If you do not see a dentist regularly, where are you getting your oral cancer screenings?
Q: How prevalent is oral cancer in the United States?
A: Over 132 new oral and oropharyngeal cancer diagnoses are made each day in the United States (2% of all types of cancer). Does this mean the occurrence of oral cancer is on the rise or that dentists are diagnosing more cases at earlier, more treatable stages? The answer to both is true. When discovered in the early stages a survival rate of over 80% is expected, about 10,000 Americans will die of this cancer in 2017.
Q: What does oral cancer look like? Where does it occur?
A: Judgment needs to be made on white patches, red areas, non-healing ulcers and abrasions, swollen glands or any abnormal tissue changes. The highest risk spots are on or behind the tongue, the floor of the mouth, lower lip and soft palate region.
Q: What happens if the dentist finds a suspicious area?
A: The only way to be 100% sure a lesion is benign or cancer is to biopsy the lesion (remove tissue to send to the pathology lab for the pathologist to check for atypical cells). Any sores or swollen areas that do not heal in two weeks need to be addressed.
Tissue biopsy is the “gold-standard” in diagnosing benign or cancerous tissue lesions.
Tissue biopsies can be obtained using soft-tissue lasers, scalpels or punches, utilizing local anesthetics.
The earlier a cancerous lesion can be detected, the earlier it can be treated. Earlier treatment relates to a higher cancer victim survival rate. The general dentist is on the front line in detecting diseases that show up in the mouth before they move on to the rest of the body.
HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. This infection could lead to head and neck cancer. Three vaccines have FDA approval to prevent HPV-16. All children, boys and girls ages 11-12 should be vaccinated routinely for HPV. Proactive action is needed to prevent this disease. Parents talk with your pediatricians.