HPV Associated Oral Cancer is on the Rise

We try to keep up with the latest news and trends in medical and dental health. When we hear something we think our patients should know, we make it our business to tell them! 

Our patients are family at Old Town Smiles.

Incidents of oral cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) are increasing, according to the American Cancer Society. This trend runs counter to an overall drop in cancer mortality rates in the United States in recent years. In fact, HPV-positive oral and oropharyngeal cancer (HPV+OPC) now represent the majority of cases of carcinoma of the mouth and throat.

As with all forms of cancer, early detection is key to effectively fighting the disease. If you are HPV-positive or if you fear you may have come into contact with the virus, we recommend that you schedule an oral cancer screening at Old Town Smiles in Alexandria, VA, as soon as possible.

Transmission Trends

The rise in HPV+OPC has put a new, younger demographic at risk of oral cancer.

The American Dental Association reports:

Examination of the demographics find that younger, non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics have higher incidence of HPV-positive OP-SCC. 

This rise has occurred in non-smokers and non-drinkers, too, demographics not typically associated with cancer risk. That’s because this type of cancer is caused by the HPV virus. 

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that often results in warts and precancerous lesions on the genitals and anus. HPV exposure to the mouth and throat can happen during oral-genital and oral-anal contact.

Risky sexual behavior and intimate contact with an HPV-positive partner can significantly raise your chances of exposure to the HPV virus, thereby increasing the likelihood that you will develop HPV+OPC. You can avoid these risks by practicing safe sex. 

The Symptoms of HPV

HPV is an insidious disease because a person may be a carrier and not even know it. It can reside in the body for years and show no symptoms. All the while the carrier is an unwitting perpetrator against all of their sexual partners because, even as the infection remains unseen, it is still contagious.  

Visible symptoms of HPV:

  • Cysts
  • Warts 
  • Flat warts 
  • Plantar warts
  • Anal warts
  • Genital warts 
  • Cancers of the penis and vagina
  • Cervical cancer
  • Mouth papillomas
  • Cancers of the mouth and throat

As you can see, the symptoms range from mere nuisance to being downright dangerous. The good news is, unless your immune system is compromised, your body is often well-equipped to fight off the infection. But, in more serious cases, life-threatening cancer can develop. 

Knowledge is power in these cases. A good, sound knowledge of your own body, along with regular screenings by a dental or healthcare professional, will help you to make educated decisions about your lifestyle and treatment options.  

Oral Cancer Incidence and Survival Rates 

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has put together a guide for healthcare professionals to screen for oral cancer. We offer oral cancer screenings at Old Town Smiles because we care about our community and your family! Sometimes dental health is about so much more than a gleaming smile — sometimes it’s about having a long healthy life.

Roughly 40,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year in the United States, accounting for about 2% of all occurrences of cancer in this country. The mortality rates for this group is significant: about 7,800 Americans die from oral cancer annually. 

These grim figures emphasize the importance of early detection. Cancer that is caught in the early stages can be treated more effectively. Generally, a bit more than half, about 60%, survive more than five years after being diagnosed with oral cancer. But, if the cancer is treated while it is still localized within the mouth, the odds jump to 83%.

That’s much better! 

Unfortunately, if the cancer has spread beyond the mouth and metastasized, those odds drop down to 36%. That’s why the professionals at Old Town Smile are committed to detecting oral cancer early. We’re trained to recognize the subtle changes in tissue that accompany the emergence of tumorous growths. 

Schedule a consultation to learn more about Old Town Smile’s oral cancer screening. 

What Are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

This is an important question to consider if you fear you may have been exposed to the HPV virus at some point in your sexual history. There are two types of lesions in the mouth that serve as warning signs for oral cancer. 

Leukoplakia – White lesions
Erythroplakia – Red lesions    

Erythroplakia, or red lesions, are the less common type of the pair. They’re also evidence of a more profound problem because erythroplakia sores are more likely to develop into full-blown cancer. Either way, if you notice persistent white or red lesions during your daily brushing and flossing routines, please take note of them. 

Schedule an oral cancer screening with us immediately if you notice any mouth sores lasting for more than two weeks. 

These are the signs and symptoms to be aware of if you’re concerned about the possibility of oral cancer: 

  • Swelling of the jaw
  • Tongue numbness 
  • Hoarseness in the throat 
  • Difficulty moving your tongue
  • Stiffness in the jaw
  • Thickening of the soft oral tissues 
  • Problems chewing and swallowing 
  • Sore throat
  • Earache

If the above symptoms persist for more than two weeks in tandem with sores and lesions, it is imperative that you schedule an oral cancer screening as soon as possible. If your dentist confirms your observations, you may also consider scheduling a biopsy with your family physician.       

How Does an Oral Cancer Screening Work?

There’s a standardized approach to an oral cancer screening that ensures a consistent and thorough examination. This examination method is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

WHO recommended oral cancer screening procedure:

  1. First, your dentist will feel around your jawline for firm growths and irritated tissues.
  2. A close observation of the lips follows.
  3. Next, your dentist will lift your upper and lower lips to examine the labial mucosa for signs of cancer.
  4. Then, your dentist will check the insides of your right and left cheeks, followed by your gums. 
  5. There’s a 360-degree inspection of the tongue: top, tip, bottom and sides.
  6. Finally, there is a search under the tongue and across the upper palate. 

If a lesion or suspicious tissue is detected, it may become necessary to contact your physician to obtain a biopsy of the affected area. Our compassionate and caring staff are trained to get a full profile of your health so that we can correctly advise you of your next steps. 

Compounding the Risk

No data exists in a vacuum. Very often, factors will work together to increase your risk. Read this section carefully. If one or more of these risk factors apply to you, you should be vigilant during your daily oral hygiene routine for soreness and lesions that may indicate cancer. 

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. It is passed on through unprotected sexual contact with an infected carrier. The risks are complicated by the fact that the carrier is often unaware that they may be passing the infection to their partner because HPV can be in the body for years without showing symptoms. HPV can also be passed from mother to unborn child.

HPV is now the leading cause of oral cancer in the U.S. If you’ve had unprotected oral-genital or oral-anal contact with an infected carrier, it’s very likely that you may have been exposed to the HPV virus. 

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

  • Age
  • Diet
  • HPV
  • Tobacco Use
  • Alcohol Use
  • Sun Exposure

Other factors more commonly associated with cancer can compound the risk. Heavy alcohol and tobacco use are still associated with a high incidence of carcinomas around the world. Tobacco use includes the use of chewing tobacco and as well as cigars, cigarettes and pipes. And a recent study by USC shows that E-cigarette users demonstrate cancer-linked genetic changes. The risks are compounded further when alcohol and tobacco are used together. 

Age also plays a role in one’s susceptibility to cancer.

People over 40 years of age are most commonly affected by oral cancer. But these demographics are shifting as HPV associated oral cancer is on the rise. The latest demographic data suggests that the group with the highest incidents of oral cancer is now younger and better educated than in the past. This group tends to be white, non-Hispanic and college-educated. They are less likely to use tobacco, as smoking in this group has dropped in recent years. Even so, more and more of the under-60 cohort are being diagnosed with oral cancer than ever before. 

Intense sun exposure and a diet low in vegetables can place you at risk for many forms of cancer. If the tender skin around the lips is not protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays, cancer may occur. 

Old Town Smiles Cares

We love to see our patients smile at Old Town Smiles — obviously! 

But this commitment means more to us than polishing up your bright pearly whites. We care about the health and well-being of everyone in our community. And we want you and your loved ones to be safe and healthy for a good long time. 

Now that’s something worth smiling about! 

  • Share: