According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. There are 14 million new cases each year with 200 different strains of HPV. Most strains of HPV are harmless as they are cleared out of the body by the immune system without causing any severe health problems. Out of the 200, only 15 are known to cause cancers. HPV is now linked to cancers classified as oral cancer and oropharyngeal cancer.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy website, HPV is now associated with 9,000 cases of head and neck cancers each year in the United States. About 1.4 million men and 500,000 women have oral HPV.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that develops in your mouth. Oral cancer may show up as an unusual lump or spot on your lips, the roof of your mouth, under or on the front part of your tongue, along the gumline, floor of the mouth, or on the lining of your cheeks.
What are the symptoms of Oral Cancer?
- A sore/soreness or irritation that is still present after 3 weeks
- Red or white patches, pain, tenderness or numbness in your mouth or lips
- Lumps, thickening of the tissue, rough spots, crusty or eroded areas
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your jaw or tongue
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can develop from age (usually between 55-64 years old) and occurs more in men than in women. However, there are other risk factors that are within your control. Behaviors that may put you at risk for oral cancer include:
- Using tobacco products
- Drinking alcohol heavily (more than 4 drinks a day)
- Using alcohol and tobacco products together (significantly increases your risk)
- Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Spending long periods in the sun (also associated with lip cancer)
- Infected with HPV
What is Oropharyngeal Cancer?
Oropharyngeal cancer is a type of cancer that causes tissues near the back of the mouth and throat, including the back and base of the tongue and the tonsils to swell.
What are the symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer?
Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer can include sore throat, hoarseness, a swollen neck, pain when swallowing, and rapid weight loss.
Can the HPV vaccine help prevent Oral Cancer?
It is recommended by the CDC that 11 and 12-year-old children receive two doses of the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical and other genital cancers. A running theory is that the HPV vaccine could also prevent head and neck cancers since the vaccine helps prevent an initial HPV infection. However, there is not any sufficient data yet to support whether the HPV vaccine will help prevent oropharyngeal and oral cancer.
At Advanced DDS, we offer annual enhanced oral cancer screenings performed by our dentists to evaluate the signs of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth. The goal is to detect and treat oral cancer early before it has time to spread to other areas of the body. Studies have found early detection doubled the average 5-year survival rate.
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