Timing is everything in the fight against oral cancer.
Only half of all patients diagnosed with the disease survive more than five years. However, it’s easier than ever to detect oral cancer early when the opportunity for a cure is great.
Now researchers at New York University are teaming up with the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research—part of the National Institutes of Health—to identify bacteria in the oral cavity that may be associated with oral cancer.
Conducted in collaboration with the NYU School of Medicine and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the study will compare the bacterial profiles of healthy, premalignant and malignant oral tissue collected from 35 patients at NYU College of Dentistry and Sloan Kettering.
Principal investigator Deepak Saxena, Ph.D., assistant professor of basic science and craniofacial biology, will use genetic sequencing to identify the bacteria present in each sample and assess which of the bacteria spur an inflammatory process known to be associated with the development of oral cancer.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop a risk assessment protocol for oral cancer based on the bacterial profile of premalignant lesions and malignant tumors,” said Dr. Saxena.
Such a risk assessment could save lives in the future. At this time, the best way to prevent oral cancer is to recognize risk factors and see a dentist regularly.
Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination. Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and precancerous conditions.
According to the American Dental Association, oral cancer most often occurs in people who use tobacco in any form; but alcohol use combined with smoking greatly increases risk. Oral cancers can also occur in people who do not smoke and have no other known risk factors.
Oral cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth The spot can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, check lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate, or lead to a change in the way the teeth fit together.
Other signs include a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal; a color change of the oral tissues; a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area; pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips; or difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
Dentists often will notice a spot or sore that looks harmless and does not have a clear cause. A simple test, such as a brush test that collects cells from a suspicious lesion in the mouth, may be used to rule out cancer.
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