Why Oral Cancer Screenings are Necessary
With oral cancer spreading at near-epidemic rates, and with as a factor in his own throat cancer, the condition seems to have suddenly taken center stage on national medical news.
Although a spokesman for the actor later said Douglas had been misquoted, the fact remains that a subspecies of a sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, is responsible for a rapid rise in cases of oral cavity cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control reports HPV-related oral tumors accounted for 72 percent of all oral cancers in the years 2000 to 2004, up from a mere 16 percent in the years from 1984 to 1989. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that roughly 80 percent of the 40,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed this year will be due to HPV. Currently, the disease claims 8,000 lives a year.
Oral Cancer Striking Younger Adults
associate professor of Ear, Nose and Throat at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, HPV-related tumors have caused the face of oral cancer to become progressively younger. In addition, customary risk factors are often absent. ,
Before the advent of HPV, tobacco users were at highest risk of oral cancers, particularly if they also consumed alcohol.
This is no longer the case, asserts Walvekar. “Now, we’re seeing a prevalence of younger adults, sometimes in their mid-30s to 40s, early 50s, who are coming with a history of, not as much of smoking or alcohol intake, but having these cancers,” Walvekar says.
Walvekar adds that between 60 and 70 percent of his patients are diagnosed with tumors that have advanced beyond the stage in which they could be treated with robotic surgery, which is capable of removing cancerous tissue as well as alleviating disfiguring scars.
The HPV virus is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the world and can be transmitted by sexual contact, including oral sex. It can cause cervical cancer in women, as well as anal and genital cancer in men and women alike.
Being exposed to HPV does not mean that you will develop cancer. In fact, the CDC reports that roughly 80 percent of women have been exposed to it at some point in their lives; men also have high rates of exposure. Most subtypes of HPV are not cancer-causing; a notable exception is HPV-16, the main culprit behind oral tumors. Normally, the immune system makes short work of the virus, causing it to harmlessly exit the body. In some cases, however, the virus remains in the body and on the tissues, where it causes cellular changes leading to cancer.
Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms
If you know what to watch out for, oral cancer detection can occur early and increase the likelihood of recovery. Symptoms of oral cancer include white or reddish patches in your mouth, unexplained lumps or thickened areas, and sores that won’t heal. Painful or difficult chewing, loosened teeth, a sore throat, or the sensation that something is caught in your throat can also be warning signs. If any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, see your dentist or doctor immediately.
Annual Screenings: Your Best Line of Defense
Oral cancer is a serious condition that is on the rise, but it is treatable if caught early. Annual oral cancer screenings from your dentist are an important tool in the fight against this disfiguring and sometimes deadly disease. Your screening should include a visual examination and palpation of your mouth and neck. By using an inexpensive wash, your dentist can detect early pre-cancerous changes in your mouth, leading to early diagnosis.