Oral Cancer Screenings More Important Than Ever

orthodontist-287285_1280With smoking rates among Americans down, many doctors expected to see a decrease in cancer diagnoses, particularly throat and neck. Instead, they started seeing an increase. This rise in oral cancer, particularly in the tonsils and back of the tongue (known as oropharyngeal cancers), has now been linked to HPV infection. “Most people in the field thought I was crazy,” Maura Gillison, an oncologist at Ohio State University says of the moment when she began testing tumor samples for HPV. But the results kept coming back positive, reports the AARP, and now 3 out of 4 cases of oralpharyngeal cancers are HPV positive. 

HPV and Oral Cancers

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. In some people, the virus goes away, while in others it remains and can cause genital warts and cancers. Many people are aware of the connection between HPV and cervical cancer in women, but until recently the prevalence of oral cancer as a result of HPV was unknown.

The recent rise in oral cancers–over 12,000 new cases each year–is affecting mostly men in their 40’s and 50’s, and many were exposed to the HPV virus in their 20’s. There is currently no test for HPV in men, which makes oral cancer screenings that much more important.  With early detection, oral cancer can have a 90% survival rate, or more.

Oral Cancer Screenings with Your Dentist

An easy way to get consistent screenings for oral cancer is at your dentist’s office. Dr. Narpat Jain of East Madison Dental has been making oral cancer screenings a regular part of the comprehensive and periodic exams at his practice since he opened 20 years ago.  This means that patients are receiving oral cancer screenings two times a year as part of their regular oral hygiene regimen. This preventative measure has enabled several patients over the years to receive an early diagnosis and seek immediate treatment, reports the practice.

HPV Vaccine

There is currently a vaccine for HPV that is recommended for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12, and up to the ages of 21 in men and 26 in women. The vaccine was initially intended to curb the high rates of cervical cancer in women, but there’s every reason to believe that it will also help curtail rates of oral and other cancers linked to HPV.

For more information about HPV and oral cancer screenings, speak with your primary care physician and dentist today.