This is the fifth consecutive year in which there has been an increase in the rate of occurrence of oral cancers . According to the CDC and the Oral Cancer Foundation, cancers of the floor of the mouth, cheeks, and alveolar ridges are associated with alcohol and tobacco use. But cancer of the base of the tongue, the throat, and the pharynx are associated with one of the same viruses that causes cervical cancer: human papilloma virus 16. HPV-16 is a sexually transmitted disease.
Approximately 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. This menacing disease will cause 8,000 deaths, killing approximately one person per hour, 24 hours a day. Of these 37,000 newly-diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will survive five years.
Oral cancer is particularly perilous because in its early stages it may not be noticed by the patient and because it has a high risk of producing secondary tumors. Patients who survive a first encounter with the disease have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer.5 This heightened risk factor can last for five to 10 years after the first occurrence. There are several types of oral cancers, but approximately 90% are squamous cell carcinomas.
The death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high because the cancer is routinely discovered late in its development. It can grow without producing pain or symptoms one might readily recognize Often, it is only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is appreciably worse than when it is caught early in a localized intraoral area. In addition to the metastasis at these later stages, the primary tumor has had time to invade deep into local structures.
Human papilloma virus connection
HPV is one of the most common virus groups in the world today affecting the skin and mucosal areas of the body. Two types of genital tract HPV in particular, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are known to cause the vast majority of cervical cancers, and recent studies show HPV-16, to be linked to oral cancer as well. In the oral cavity, HPV-16 manifests itself primarily in the posterior regions such as the base of the tongue, the oropharynx, the tonsils and the tonsillar pillars. HPV is also responsible for other squamous cell carcinomas, particularly in the pelvic region.in in the pelvic region.
It has now been established that the pathway that brings people to oral cancer contains at least two distinct sources: one through tobacco and alcohol and the other via the HPV virus,The HPV positive group is the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population. The HPV positive group is the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population.
Simply stated, today anyone old enough to have engaged in sexual behaviors which are capable of transferring this very widely present virus needs to be screened annually for oral cancer. For this reason we are strong promoters of annual screenings to catch this disease at its earliest possible stages, when it is most responsive to treatment and survival rates are the highest.
It is important for patients to recognize that a visit to the dental office is no longer about a filling, a crown, or a cleaning but is actually a matter of life and death.
Dental examinations that include a comprehensive screening for oral cancer save lives! The most important step in reducing the death rate from oral cancer is early discovery. No other professional is better positioned for early detection or will be held more accountable than members of the dental community.