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Snuffing Out Oral Cancers: Dentists Can Play Important Role In Preventing Cancer

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Dentists Can Help Prevent Oral Cancer

Snuffing Out Oral Cancers: Dentists Can Play Important Role In Preventing Cancer

July 16, 2007
By: Rebecca K. Abma for Dental1

Each year more than 30,000 Americans develop oral and throat cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. It often starts as a small white or red spot or sore in the mouth and can affect the lips, gums, cheek, tongue and hard or soft palate.
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Regular dental visits can help detect oral cancer in its early stages, when it is more likely to be cured. Similarly, see your dentist if you notice any of the following:
  • A mouth sore that doesn’t heal or increases in size
  • Persistent mouth pain
  • White, red or dark patches or lumps inside your mouth
  • Thickening of your cheek
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw
  • Swelling or pain in your jaw
  • Persistent sore throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Pain around your teeth
  • Numbness of your tongue
  • A lump in your neck

  • Oral cancer occurs as a result of damage to the DNA in the cells of your mouth and throat. More than 75 percent of oral cancer cases involve tobacco, including cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking as well as smokeless or chewing tobacco. Excessive alcohol consumption combined with tobacco increases the risk.

    A new study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found dentists can play a key role in preventing oral cancers by helping patients to quit smoking and chewing tobacco.

    Researchers at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., randomly assigned eight general dental practices to intervene by offering patients who use tobacco either brief counseling regarding smoking cessation or brief counseling along with referrals to a tobacco-use quitline. Six months later, more than one-quarter of the patients who underwent counseling were abstaining from tobacco use. Abstinence rates increased when patients completed more telephone consultations.

    According to the study, 60 percent of dentists believe their patients do not expect tobacco-use cessation services from them, but 59 percent of patients believe dentists should provide such services. Offering tobacco-use quitlines is one way to help practitioners meet patient expectations, note study authors.

    Another culprit

    Roughly one-fourth of oral cancers occur in non-tobacco users. New research shows these cases may be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Of the more than 80 different strains of HPV, the most common form causes warts on the hands or feet.

    Other strains of the virus are sexually transmitted and can result in genital warts or have no symptoms at all. Unlike most STDs that are spread through the exchange of body fluids, HPV is transmitted through skin contact. Left undetected and untreated, genital strains of HPV can become cancerous.

    Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center found that the HPV strain responsible for 95 percent of cervical cancers is also present in 25 percent of oral cancers. Study authors note both organs have similar cells which are targeted by the HPV strains. Additionally, it appears drinking and smoking may help facilitate HPV invasion.

    Currently, women can be vaccinated against the common HPV strains responsible for cervical cancer. In the future, a similar vaccine may be available to men and may help to further prevent oral cancers.

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