Oral Cancer—What You Need to Know

New research has shown that there is a definite link between oral cancer and human papilloma virus (HPV), the most sexually transmitted infection in the U.S today. According to the American Cancer Society, HPV DNA is now found to be on the rise in about two out of three oral cancers. The HPV family of viruses contain almost 200 strains, but the one that is strongly associated with oropharyngeal cancer is the HPV “Type 16”. About 63% of oropharyngeal cancers in women are caused by HPV and about 72% of these cancers in men are caused by HPV. This increase is only half the story though; the other being whom it’s affecting. More HPV-related cancer patients are tending to be younger patients and less likely to be smokers and drinkers. Some experts think that the younger age could be related to changes in sexual practices in recent decades—in particular, an increase in oral sexual practices.

To insure that more Americans are protected from cancer, the CDC recommends that all adolescents age 11-12 get the HPV vaccine, such as Gardasil or Cervarix. Any children and adults ages 13 to 26 (male and female) who haven’t received the vaccine should get it, according to CDC recommendations. Some good news is that with salivary diagnostic testing we can now determine who carries the HPV-16 and HPV-18 strains, which cause oral cancer. Because more than 90% of HPV infections will go away within two years, the purpose of salivary testing is to identify patients who should be followed more closely.

A thorough oral cancer screening is recommended at least on a yearly basis. We have been doing these screenings for many years for our patients and will continue to perform these important exams in the future. If at any time you feel that something in your mouth does not feel normal to you please contact our office and we will be happy to examine you. Early detection of cancer will usually make the treatment more successful.