Screenings, Vaccine Recommended During Oral Cancer Awareness Month

When caught early, oral cancer is highly treatable, and some experts say April's designation as oral cancer awareness month is a useful time to raise awareness about the disease.

The National Cancer Institute estimates there were 42,440 new cases or oral cavity and pharynx cancer in 2014 and 8,390 deaths. Death rates have not changed significantly between 2002 and 2011, according to NCI.

Still, most oral cancer diagnoses are "caught late," said John Hellstein, D.D.S., who is the president of the American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, professor of oral and maxillofacial pathology at the University of Iowa and the former chair of the American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs. "That's why we want dentists at every appointment to look for any kind of abnormality."

During dental visits, patients should talk with their dentists about their health history and have an examination of their oral cavity for signs of mouth and/or throat cancer. This consists of a visual inspection of the mouth and palpation of the jaw and neck, according to the American Dental Association's mouthhealthy.org.

Research has identified that smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and especially those two things combined are factors that contribute to the development of oral cancers.

Sexual activity can also contribute, as the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted, has been associated with cancers of the oropharyngeal region that is the part of the throat at the back of the mouth. HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers are related to the increasing incidence of throat cancers in non smoking adults, according to mouthhealthy.org, the American Dental Association's website for consumer news and information.

Dr. Hellstein said in recent years an increase in people under 40 being diagnosed with oral cancer may be related in part to HPV. He recommends that everyone aged 12-25 receive the HPV vaccination.

More information for patients about oral cancer can be found at mouthhealthy.org.

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