Oral cancer is responsible for 13,500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. It’s also one of the most misunderstood forms of cancer.
More and more, this disease is striking young people who wouldn’t have been considered high-risk in the past. The HPV virus is a new pathway to oral cancer — new, at least, compared to tobacco use like smoking, chew and dip. The strain that causes oral cancer, HPV16, is the same one responsible for most cervical cancer cases.
Oral cancer often goes undetected until it’s too late. Too often, warning signs aren’t observed until the disease has advanced. After all, how often do you conduct an in-depth examination of your tongue, throat and the inner recesses of your mouth?
Dental professionals are in an ideal position to identify problems that could be oral cancer. At Future of Dentistry, we proactively check for warning signs. Every hygiene appointment at our office includes an oral cancer screening. During VELscope exams, our hygienists work with a handheld scope, using black-light technology to illuminate potential problem areas.
We often point out that hygiene visits are “more than just a cleaning,” and oral cancer screening is a perfect example. April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good time to talk about why these exams are so important.
HPV is an easily transmitted virus. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, you can have HPV without ever knowing it because the virus may not produce noticeable signs or symptoms. This is why we conduct an oral cancer screening on all our patients.
For many years, the main cause of oral cancer was the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products. They remain a significant contributor to the disease. Smoking has declined over the years, but it’s unfortunately still too common. Nearly 17 percent of American adults were smokers as of 2014, according to a CDC study.
Additionally, our society faces new risks, such as electronic cigarettes. Science and regulatory agencies are scrambling to understand e-cigarettes and the threat that “vaping” poses to health and safety. We know these products contain addictive nicotine, but there is still much we need to learn about how the vapors affect the human body. Until then, it’s best to avoid these products and the potential risk to your health.