April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and an ideal time to discuss the latest facts and statistics concerning this disease. While oral cancer is relatively rare, it has historically resulted in a high death rate because it is generally diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. To aid in the screening of our patients for oral cancer, we use fluorescence technology along with a tactile and visual exam at each dental re-care appointment. Our patients appreciate it and we believe it is our obligation to provide this important service.
- Tobacco Use, both smoking and smokeless varieties
- Alcohol Use (More than 1 drink per day for women, and 2 drinks per day for men)
- Age over 40
- Males are 2X as likely to get oral cancer as females
- Exposure to Human Papillomavirus 16
- Use tobacco and alcohol together is related to a 15X increase in oral cancer risk
While oral cancer has decreased in the historical patient type: a heavy drinking male who uses tobacco, cases are actually increasing among the younger population due to Human Papillomavirus 16. This is the same virus that the gynecologist screens for with the “pap smear”. You have probably already put two and two together, but this is a sexually transmitted virus. It is surmised that this effect follows the trend of younger people having less sex, but more oral sex. Most sexually active adults have been exposed to HPV-16 and the body’s immune response generally keeps it in check. However, this virus can become active long after the initial exposure.
What to Look For
- Trouble swallowing or the feeling that something is stuck in your throat
- Lumps, bumps or nodules in the neck. They may or may not be tender
- A white or red patch anywhere in the mouth that does not dissipate within 2 weeks
- Lumps or bumps on the tongue, palate, lips, or cheeks
Our Screening Protocol
We screen all new patients to our practice, as well as our existing patients at each dental cleaning for oral cancer. We use OralID, which is the latest in fluorescence screening technology, along with a tactile and visual exam. If a suspicious lesion is noted, we will photograph it and enter into the patient’s digital chart. The patient is then scheduled to return for an evaluation in two weeks to verify healing. If the lesion is still present, we make a referral to an oral surgeon or ENT physician for further evaluation and treatment.
Please let us know if you have any questions about a suspicious lesion and we’ll shine some light on it!
Dr. Michael Gillespie has practiced as a Waynesville dentist for 25 years. The office is located at 611 S. Haywood St. in Waynesville, and can be reached at 828-456-9007.