July 20, 2018
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HPV And Oral Cancer

Dr. Jeffrey Cranska
Dr. Jeffrey Cranska's picture
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September 6, 2017

If you are a smoker or if you abuse alcohol, you should be concerned about these traditional risk factors for oral cancer. We are now faced with an epidemic: A common viral infection is causing oral cancer to develop in young non-smokers and casual drinkers.

Research now shows links between human papillomavirus (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 the United States, general dentists are tasked with the responsibility of oral cancer screenings. Every person should undergo routine oral cancer examination during each dental 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: More than 132 new oral and oropharyngeal cancer diagnoses (2 percent of all types of cancer) are made each day in the United States. Does this mean the occurrence of oral cancer is on the rise? Are dentists diagnosing more cases at earlier, more treatable stages? The answer to both questions is “yes.” When the cancer is discovered in the early stages, a survival rate of more than 80 percent 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: Dentists will judge areas where they see 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, on the floor of the mouth, on the lower lip, and in the soft palate region.

Q: What happens if the dentist finds a suspicious area?

A: The only way to be 100 percent sure that a lesion is benign or cancerous is to biopsy the lesion (remove the tissue and send it to a pathology lab 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.

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