Many people know that smoking and drinking greatly increase your risk of developing head or neck cancer, but shockingly the human papillomavirus (HPV) is now found in up to 50% of new cases. Today, and every day this year, more than 16 people will die from some form of oral cancer. Every hour three more people are diagnosed with one of the numerous types of this disease.
April is National Cancer Control Month, a time dedicated to creating awareness in the hopes of preventing all variations of cancer and for my staff and me, it is a chance to educate people on HPV, oral cancer’s little-known risk factor. Shockingly, in people between the ages of 20 and 39 those who have had an HPV infection are 32 times more likely to develop oral cancers. 32 times.
HPV is most commonly thought of as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer, but it is much more complicated than that. There are over 40 different types that can present in a variety of ways; however, in a whopping 90% of cases the body’s immune system clears the infection without any symptoms whatsoever.
According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 20 million Americans are infected with HPV right now and another 6 million new people are infected each year. They also estimate that at least 50% of sexually active men and women contract it at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately, the vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix are targeted to the types of HPV that lead to cervical cancer, and do not protect against those that lead to head and neck cancers. Even worse, standard STI tests do not screen for HPV, and people often don’t even know they have it until something worse develops. Right now, the best way to detect oral HPV is through a salivary diagnostic test such as the OraRisk test from Oral DNA Labs.
There are also several technologies that we may use to help screen for oral cancer such as the tissue fluorescence devices VELscope and ViziLite, which allow detection to be quick, easy and painless. We may also use a simple brush biopsy, which lightly scrapes cells off a suspected lesion to be analyzed in a laboratory.
If you have any questions or concerns about HPV or oral cancer, please contact the office today or mention it to us at your next appointment. My staff and I want to do everything we can to prevent you from having to go endure the disfiguring and deadly effects of oral cancer.