With oral cancer rates on the incline around the world (a recent news report by CTV news in Canada found that cases of HPV (human papilloma virus)-related oral cancers in Canada have doubled since 2002), getting screened for oral cancer is more important than ever. This year alone, nearly 50,000 people will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States. Of those new cases, only about half will survive more than five years. In fact, this year alone an estimated 9,750 Americans will die of oral cancer. That’s about one oral cancer-related death every 24 hours. Worst of all, the reason behind such a death rate is late detection. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, most cases of oral cancer aren’t spotted until they’ve spread to other organs, which makes early detection the best defense.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
Though there is no one cause of oral cancer, HPV-related cases are increasing worldwide, especially HPV16-related cancers. There are roughly 200 different strains of HPV affecting a staggering 40 million Americans today. Thankfully, most of these strains are believed to be harmless and will never develop into cancer, but about 1 percent of the infected population lacks an immune response to HPV16, which is also responsible (along with HPV18) for most cases of cervical and other reproductive cancers in both men and women.
Other causes for oral cancer include smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, ultraviolet (UV) damage and old age.
Oral cancer often isn't diagnosed until it has metastasized and spread to other organs. That’s why many dental practices have taken the initiative to begin offering in-office screening during routine dental exams. At Hill Dental Studio, we use the VELscope cancer-screening device. VELscope is a wireless, handheld scope that uses the natural fluorescence of oral tissue by detecting fluorophores in the mouth. When the light emitted from the VELscope is shone in front of oral tissue, it can detect abnormalities in the tissue, including cancers.
The VELscope device is the gold standard in oral cancer detection. It is fast and painless, and currently in use by over 12,000 dentists in 23 countries around the world.
In addition to the VELscope, we also still screen the mouth for oral cancer the old-fashioned way, conducting an oral exam by looking at and feeling the inside of the mouth, including the cheeks, tongue, gums and underneath the tongue for any abnormalities.
Though not every case of oral cancer can be prevented, there is plenty you can do to reduce your risks. Cessation of smoking and chewing tobacco and reducing your intake of alcoholic beverages can cut your risks. Limiting your time in the sun and wearing adequate sunscreen on your entire body (including your lips!) can also reduce your risk. Finally, you can reduce your risk of contracting HPV by receiving regular STD screenings and using proper protection, including getting the HPV vaccine and using condoms.
If you are concerned about your oral health and would like to be screened for oral cancer, or if you simply need to make an appointment, please give Dr. Hill’s office a call at 469-640-9550.