UNDERSTANDING ORAL CANCERS
Michael Douglas’ recent diagnosis and treatment for throat cancer has brought oral cancer into the spotlight.
While other cancers like breast and skin have received a great deal of attention, this may be changing. In the past, throat cancer made up to 18% of head and neck cancers but these days that number has climbed to 33%.
Smoking and drinking have been directly linked to oral cancer and this appears to be the cause with Michael Douglas’ case as he has admitted to a decades-long cigarette habit and his past struggle with alcoholism. However, there is a new culprit on the block and uncomfortable as it is, we need to bring this information into the spotlight and educate the public.
The HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease known for causing genital warts. While most of the over 130 strains of the virus are harmless and easily treated, 9 have been proven to cause cancer with the HPV 16 version being responsible for almost half of the oral cancers in the United States, said Brian Hill of the Oral Cancer Foundation.
“Social and sexual behaviors have changed”, Hill said. “Oral sex is more common, the virus is spreading, especially among young people because sexual contact is more common and this virus is not only ubiquitous in our society, but the mechanism of transfer is very simple”.
Today, almost half of those diagnosed with the disease are younger than 50 years old – with some as young as 20, according to Hill – and they are usually non-smokers!
What makes this form of cancer so dangerous is that it often goes undetected in its early stages due to the lack of symptoms. In Michael Douglas’ case a nagging sore throat was the only symptom until a biopsy confirmed he had stage lV oropharyngeal cancer requiring surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Please remember that oral cancer is typically very difficult to see in your own mouth and that because of the proximity of major blood vessels in the head, if undetected, can quickly metastasize and spread.
So…… the best prevention is to have your dental professional perform a visual and tactile exam at your regular cleaning and check-up appointment as they are trained to detect subtle signs and symptoms with this simple 3-5 minute exam.
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Until next time,