When many people think about oral cancer, they figure it’s only a problem if you’re a smoker. Unfortunately, head and neck cancer is on the rise, especially for men in Generation X.
Experts believe HPV is largely to blame for this sudden uptick in oral and throat cancers.
Let’s take a look at some facts about HPV and oral cancer, what you can do to decrease your risks, and why your regular dental visits are an important part of prevention.
Facts About HPV and Oral Cancer
You may have heard of HPV—human papilloma virus—before. Many people are already aware that HPV is one of the main causes of cervical cancers in women. But how much do you really know about this common sexually transmitted infection?
First, let’s get some facts straight about HPV.
- Not all HPV is the same. There are many strains (over 100!) of HPV. Some increase cancer risks and others don’t.
- HPV is very common. In fact, an estimated 80% of women will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime.
- Most HPV infections don’t have any symptoms.
- HPV almost always goes away on its own within about 2 years.
- By 2024, oral cancer could become the most common form of cancer in men due to HPV prevalence.
To sum up, if you’re a sexually active adult in the US, you’ve probably already come into contact with HPV at some point. Because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms, you may not have even been aware.
Unfortunately, HPV-related cancers often don’t cause symptoms until they’re fairly advanced. That’s why prevention and early detection are so important.
Let’s take a look at a few ways you can decrease your risks of developing HPV-related cancer.
How You Can Decrease Your Risks
This might all sound scary. If almost everyone gets HPV at some point, it may feel like there’s nothing you can do but cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Remember that HPV doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to develop cancer. Even if you contract one of the high-risk strains, it’s exactly that: higher risk. Cancer risks compound. So if you can decrease your risk factors in other areas, you can decrease the likelihood that your HPV will turn into cancer.
Some cancer risks are not within our control. Your genetics and family history, for example.
Here are a few things that are within your control that may help reduce your cancer risks.
- Quit Smoking. Tobacco increases all cancer risks, and especially for cancers in the mouth, throat, and lungs.
- Minimize Alcohol Use. Alcohol also increases risks for head and neck cancers. The combination of tobacco and alcohol together is especially harmful.
- Limit UV Light Exposure. Avoiding sun damage, especially to the lips, can help decrease your
risks for certain oral cancers. So grab that SPF lip balm when you go outside!
- Stick to a Balanced Diet. Focus on getting lots of veggies and whole grains and avoid eating too many highly processed foods.
- Work Toward a Healthy Weight. Excess body weight has been shown to increase risks for oral and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.
- Get Vaccinated for HPV. If you’re under the age of 45, it’s not too late! HPV vaccinations are recommended as young as age 9, but we now know they’re still effective at decreasing cancer risks, even if you’ve already had or currently have HPV.
- Keep Up with Regular Dental Exams. We’ll get into details in the next section, but regular dental exams are key for early detection.
Head to the American Cancer Society website for more details on decreasing your cancer risks.
So now we know you may be able to take some steps to decrease your risks. But how can your regular dental check-ups make a difference?
How Your Team at Lake Baldwin Dental Can Help
Early detection is key to effective cancer treatment. The longer cancer is left to develop, the more difficult it is to treat.
Unlike other types of cancer, oral cancer can be especially disfiguring, even when treatment is effective. It’s not uncommon for oral cancer treatments to involve removing significant portions of the tongue and lips. Throat cancer may make it necessary to remove parts of the jaw, palate, or voice box.
To make sure we identify lesions as early as possible, every routine cleaning and oral health examination at Lake Baldwin Dental includes an oral cancer screening.
We’ll check all the soft tissues in your mouth, under your tongue, and the back of your throat. We also use a specialized oral cancer detection light called VELscope.
This amazing piece of technology uses a special wavelength of light that makes healthy tissue glow. Abnormal cells will look dark under the light. We can grab photos and send them for immediate analysis by oral cancer specialists. If we see anything suspicious, we will let you know and help you get set up for further testing such as a biopsy with an oral surgeon or periodontist.
We can also connect you with resources to help you quit smoking and reduce your cancer risks. If you have any worries about oral cancer or HPV, never hesitate to ask! We’re here to keep your smile healthy, Orlando!