The Cancer Connection: Human Papillomavirus and Oral Cancer

Jill GolsenBy Jill Golsen, DMD

Did you know? The number one cause of death from oral cancer is related to human papillomavirus (HPV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this will be an epidemic that affects more than 80 million people over the next 20 years.

While cervical cancer is associated with HPV, oral cancer is too. Here is the scary part—oral cancer doesn’t hurt. You often don’t feel its wrath until you have advanced symptoms.

We used to think that if you were a smoker, you had the highest chance of getting oral cancer. People are not smoking like they used to, so why are rates of oral and tonsillar cancer still so high? HPV.

There is a lot of buzz about getting your children vaccinated for HPV. The problem for adults is that if you have ever been sexually active, you could have, and still can, contract HPV. While there are over 200 strains of the virus, there are only two that are associated with cancer—HPV 16 and 18. Your general practitioner, gynecologist or urologist can test you.

Oral Cancer and HPVAs a dentist, I always do an oral cancer screening at every hygiene visit. Any sore in your mouth that hasn’t gone away in 2 weeks needs to be followed up by a visit to an oral surgeon or an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

Look out for advanced symptoms (conditions that last more than 2 weeks) that might include:

  • A persistent hoarseness or sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A swollen but not painful tonsil
  • A red, white or black discoloration on the soft tissue in the mouth.

Make sure your dentist performs an oral cancer screening even though you don’t smoke. Cancer sneaks up on us!

Golsen Family Dentistry • Jill M. Golsen, DMD • (770) 667-0669 • GolsenDental.com 

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