The Tobacco-Oral Cancer Connection
Long term, excessive use of tobacco (and to a lesser extent, alcoholic beverages) has long been known to be the main risk factor, and suspected cause, of most cancer in the throat and the oral cavity.
No one has yet proved the exact way in which this cancer forms, and so, technically we can’t say we know tobacco to be a “cause” of oral cancer – even though very few would doubt that, in fact, it is.
Over 50,000 new people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year in the US, with tobacco use long being the leading likely cause.
And while smoking has become less fashionable and socially accepted in the US in recent years, it still retains strongholds in the South, Southwest, and in many rural areas.
The Oral Cancer Foundation and other groups are making efforts to raise awareness of the dangers tobacco poses as to oral cancer, and those efforts are beginning to pay off.
HPV-16, A Relatively New Risk Factor
Beginning in 1999, there has been a new understanding of how HPV (human papillomavirus) 16, which already is known to cause cervical cancer in many women, is also a major risk factor for developing oral cancer.
Most, but not all, HPV-related oral cancer occurs in women. This is, therefore, of special concern to women; yet, since the virus can affect anyone, there are campaigns underway to vaccinate everyone against HPV so the next generation will have a greatly reduced risk of getting oral and other cancers that HPV can lead to.
Only around 10% of oral cancer cases do not stem from some clearly identified risk factor. These are probably genetically related. But the large majority of occurrences can be traced to HPV or to tobacco of alcohol use.
What Can We Do About Oral Cancer?
All you can do about oral cancer is be aware of the risk and do everything possible to minimize your risk factors, while encouraging others to do the same.
That will mean good oral hygiene, quitting smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol, and vaccination for HPV-16. It will also mean regular oral cancer screenings at your local periodontist’s office.
The sad truth about oral cancer is that it has an 80% to 90% survival rate when caught early. But when diagnosed late in the process, as it usually is, the survival rate plummets to just over 40% five years after diagnosis.
A dental screening for oral cancer can be done at the same time as your annual check up and cleaning. To learn more or to schedule an oral cancer screening and/or dental and periodontal exam in Volusia & Flagler Counties, FL, contact periodontist Dr. Raymond A. Kenzik today.