Local dentist to offer free screenings

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

HPV virus and other factors linked to oral cancer

April is oral cancer awareness month, and to help promote early detection, Dentist Dr. Carolyn Hunter, who has practiced in Cassville for over 30 years, will be offering free screenings from April 25-28.

Hunter attended a seminar where she heard performer and motivational speaker Eva Grayzel, who was diagnosed with stage four oral cancer at only 33 years old and given a 15 percent chance of survival. She also learned that one American every hour of every day dies from oral cancer.

"It really stuck with me that this is important," she said. "And, there's so much more cancer than there used to be. We just want to be able to get people screened and diagnosed early."

Most oral cancers are caught late, hence the American Dental Association's mandate to raise awareness among providers and patients about the disease through creating an awareness month for the disease. Grayzel saw dentists for two years for an ulcer on her tongue that grew larger before being diagnosed with oral cancer. Due to her late diagnosis, Grayzel had to endure a tongue reconstruction, a radical neck dissection and a maximum dose of radiation therapy. The National Cancer Institute estimates there were 42,440 new cases of oral and pharynx cancer in 2014, and 8,390 death. The disease is more common in men than women.

When caught early, oral cancers are more treatable and have a better outcomes, but many are not aware they have it. It can start as a persistent canker sore or ulcer in the mouth, gums, lips, or tongue that does not heal. Other symptoms can include red or white patches, lumps or a thickening in the mouth, gums, lips or tongue, pain upon swallowing or a peculiar soar throat, chronic hoarseness, non-tender lumps in the neck, bad breath, or pain in the ear, mouth or face.

Hunter said her office follows a certain protocol to check for oral cancer, but for the free screenings, she will be utilizing a new tool, an advanced light technology that may be able to help detect oral cancers.

"We are getting a light that helps identify which oral lesions should be sent to an ear, nose and throat specialist or oral surgeon for evaluation," she said. "Most lights have one type of a light this one has three."

Hunter said the only sure way to diagnose the cancer is through a biopsy that is performed by an ENT or surgeon. Treatment typically includes surgery of the mouth, tongue or neck area, and radiation therapy.

Risk factors can include smoking and excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages, but many who are diagnosed are non-smokers. Other suspected causes include the HPV virus, the most common sexually transmitted infection that can infect the genital areas, mouth and throat, and may explain increasing cases of oral and throat cancers in nonsmoking adults.

About 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, and another 14 million are infected each year. Young adults and teenagers between the ages of 15-24 account for nearly half of the infections.

According to Dental IQ, the profile of new cases of oral cancers are nonsmokers who are predominately white, upper middle class, college-educated men. And that HPV-16, the strain of the virus that causes cervical cancer in women, has become the leading cause of oral cancer in non-smoking men.

"Sometimes the HPV virus is the cause of it," Hunter said. "But not all oral cancers relate to that."

There are over 100 different types of HPV strains, but high-risk infection types 16 and 18 cause nearly all cervical cancers and most anal cancers. They can also cause genital, mouth and throat cancers. Low-risk HPV types 6 and 11 cause more than 90 percent of genital warts.

There is no treatment for HPV infection, only treatments for the health problems it can cause, including oral cancer.

HPV is transferred through vaginal and anal sex and genital touching. It may also be passed during oral sex. Most infected persons do know they are infected.

According to the Center for Disease Control, oral cancer has a low survival rate because it is generally not discovered until it has spread to other areas, and only half of those who've been diagnosed will live longer than five years. Therefore, prevention is crucial.

The ADA encourages providers to promote early detection through regular exams and screenings and encourages people to practice prevention, by being screened annually for oral cancer, refraining from or reducing use of tobacco products, limiting alcohol, avoiding HPV exposure by limiting the number of sexual partners and using protection.

For more information on oral cancer, people may visit www.ada.org or mouthhealthy.org.

"We are in the health care field and would be pleased to provide a screening for residents at no charge from April 25 through the 28," Hunter said.

To schedule a free screening, people may call the dental clinic at 417-847-2461.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: