Within the last 30 years, oral and oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer has increased by 700%. Why is this the case? According to the National Cancer Institute, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) prevalence is responsible for 70% of orophayngeal cancer cases. While many are aware of the cancer risks associated with smoking and excessive alcohol use, the risk of persistent HPV infection in relation to cancer incidence is significantly higher. Persistent HPV-16 infection increases the chance of developing orophayngeal cancer by 22 times, while tobacco and/or alcohol consumption increase cancer risk by 2-3 fold. The Center for Disease Control reports that men experience oral cancer at a rate 4 times that of women. The incidence of HPV-associated orophayngeal cancers have surpassed the incidence of cervical cancer in 2017. Every adult is at risk, as over 80% of adults will be exposed to HPV infection in their lifetime. While the majority of HPV infections are asymptomatic, some HPV always remains in the body as a latent HPV infection. This virus can be reactivated with the immune system is weakened. From 1997 to 2013, 92% of HPV associated oral and orophayngeal cancer was diagnosed in the late stage. With all this data, what can we do to protect ourselves from this risk?
Many oral cancer screenings rely on visual and tactile detection, checking tissues for changes in color, consistency, texture, shape and other qualities. While effective, this method is only adequate within the parts of the mouth that we can see and feel, but leave other areas, like the tonsils and throat, un-screened. These methods also rely on waiting until there is a change in tissue or a lesion has developed. In the case of HPV, we cannot see, nor feel the virus; however we now have the ability to screen for it. Infection can now be diagnosed before the development of invasive cancer or lesions.
It is recommended to be screened annually, even if one is in a long term monogamous relationship, as most individuals have been exposed to HPV infection at some point in their lives, and the virus always stays in your body. The dormant virus can reactivate, and is site-specific, meaning a person may have HPV present in orally and not in the reproductive areas, or vice versa. Pre-malignant lesions that are caused by persistent HPV are 100% treatable, and early detection saves lives!
Screening for oral/oropharyngeal HPV is simple. Your dental professional will have you swish with a rinse for 25 seconds, then tilt your head back and gargle deeply for 5 seconds. The rinse is expectorated into a test tube, which is then processed in a lab to detect the presence of HPV. Results are received in less than 2 weeks, and your team here at SoundBridge Dental Arts and Sleep Therapy will guide you through what your results mean. This test can easily be completed at your regular checkup and hygiene visits!
Please call us today at 253-857-4114 to set up your check up and oral cancer screening, or to answer any questions you may have!
— Alexa, your friendly neighborhood hygienist!