Everyone is at risk for oral cancer

Oct. 24, 2008
Oral cancer kills one American every hour, largely due to late detection.

It used to be known as a disease of older men with histories of heavy smoking or drinking.

But today's oral-cancer victim is often younger and female. Oral cancer among people in their 40s nearly doubled from 1973-2004, and researchers think they know why.

The human papillomavirus, long known as the primary cause of cervical cancer, turns out to be an equal-opportunity killer causing oral cancer in men as well as in women. Oral cancer strikes three times as many Americans as cervical cancer, and kills twice as many per year.

As reported recently on ABC TV's Good Morning America, 39% of today's oral cancer cases stem from HPV infection. ABC showcased the new face of oral cancer: Theresa Dillon, a 38-year-old mom with no history of tobacco use was diagnosed with Stage II oral cancer on her tonsil.

The cause? The HPV virus.

Johns Hopkins researchers, writing in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reported that the sexually transmitted HPV virus causes as many cancers of the upper throat as tobacco and alcohol combined. Oral sex is the likely method of transmission. They said the incidence rate for HPV-related oral cancers among males has been rising steadily for three decades.

"Every sexually active adult may be at risk for oral cancer," said Dr. Omer Reed, Phoenix-based dentist and international dental practice consultant, "but no one should have to suffer, let alone die, from this disease."

Reed says dentists across the U.S. and Canada offer a three-minute, totally painless exam called ViziLite Plus that has been clinically proven to help dentists detect abnormal tissue, including precancerous and cancerous lesions. After a patient rinses with a special solution, the dentist examines the mouth with a light stick that illuminates abnormalities. Suspicious areas are marked with a temporary dye called TBlue for follow-up.

As Dillon said on Good Morning America, "People think the face of oral cancer is a 70-year-old man who's been chewing tobacco and drinking whisky all his life. The face of oral cancer now is me, a young woman, healthy, nonsmoking, fit."

Many insurance companies cover the ViziLite Plus exam. To find a dentist offering ViziLite Plus exams in your area, go to ViziLite.

"An oral cancer exam should be a key part of every adult's annual dental check-up," said Dr. Reed.

For more information, go to Zila.

To read more about ViziLite, go to ViziLite.

To comment on this topic, go to PennWell Dental Community site.