Oral cancer is one of the most misunderstood forms of cancer. Too often, patients believe that only tobacco use can lead to oral cancer. This is simply not true. You may be surprised to learn that this disease affects a wide range of people.
In fact, non-smokers aged 25 to 50 — who are otherwise healthy — are the fastest-growing segment of the oral/oropharyngeal cancer population.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) has changed the way the medical community looks at this disease. Several forms of HPV are linked to oral cancer. Research suggests that more young people suffer from oral cancer because of the virus.
Unfortunately, public awareness hasn’t quite caught up with science. The topics of oral cancer and HPV are often taboo, embarrassing or simply overlooked.
That’s why Oral Cancer Awareness Month is so important. Recognized nationally in April, it’s a chance to break down the barriers and spread the word about prevention and detection.
It’s also the reason we’re raffling off the gift basket you see in this blog. It’s chockfull of fun items, including a Visa “cash card” and gift cards to a local ice cream shop and pizza place. Most of these items have nothing to do with dentistry. It’s just a fun contest with a simple goal — raising awareness.
Here’s how to win the basket:
- Pledge to be checked annually
- Like/Share the oral cancer post on our Facebook page before the end of April 2017. (If you don’t use Facebook, you can call 781-245-2299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to enter)
Anyone can win, whether or not they’re a patient at Future of Dentistry. The goal is awareness, for everyone. We’ll announce the winner during the first week of March.
- The same strains of HPV that infect genital areas can infect the mouth and throat, known as “oral HPV.”
- Some forms of oral HPV are shown to cause cancer in the mouth, head and neck areas. Other types can cause warts in the mouth or throat.
- Cancer caused by HPV often takes years to develop after the initial HPV infection.
- HPV may go away on its own without causing any health problems. The key is to stay vigilant — routine checks for an abnormal symptoms.
Myths and Truths
Myth: You have to be a smoker to get oral cancer.
Truth: In the U.S. alone, about 9,000 people are diagnosed with oral/oropharyngeal cancers that may be caused by HPV.
Myth: Only older people get oral cancer.
Truth: More than a quarter of diagnoses are in patients under 55, and researchers believe that figure is growing.
Myth: Oral cancer isn’t as “bad” as other cancers.
Truth: Oral cancer is responsible for an estimated 9,700 deaths per year in the U.S.
Myth: Men carry HPV, but they can’t contract a disease from it.
Truth: Head and neck cancers are actually more common in men than women. Men are not exempt from HPV-related cancer.
Prevention And Detection
Early detection is a critical factor in oral cancer diagnoses. It’s essential to be checked regularly by a trained, well-equipped professional.
- Stick to your schedule of preventative dental visits. As part of your annual cleanings and checkups, we test for oral cancer using visual and VELscope exams.
- If you’re concerned about your risk factors, ask Future of Dentistry about saliva testing for HPV. It’s a screening tool we use to check for different types of oral HPV. It’s discreet, non-invasive and simple.
- Ask your physician about the HPV vaccine for children, teens, and young adults. The CDC now recommends the vaccine for 11- to 12-year-olds, both boys and girls, to protect against cancers caused by HPV infections.
- Oral cancer is more common among those with periodontal disease (gum disease). The best way to prevent and treat periodontal disease is to visit the dentist regularly and be diligent about your home care.
- Don’t use tobacco products. This is a given for your overall and oral health. It’s also possible that tobacco use may interact with HPV, making it more likely to develop cancer — research is ongoing to understand all the causes.