Surprising Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

***UPDATED: September 24, 2013***  Researchers are constantly studying the circumstances around cancer to try to understand it more and ultimately improve treatment or even find a cure.  Recently, one such study, conducted at the University of Buffalo, made a very interesting discovery about the relationship between dental cavities and the occurrence of such head and neck cancers as the lip, oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx.  After examining close to 400 patients diagnosed with these cancers along with over 200 healthy controls, scientists found that those with dental decay, or dental caries, had a lower prevalence of the carcinomas being investigated.  While researchers don’t fully understand the connection at this point, the published study, as reported on in a Dental Tribune article, suggests that the bacteria responsible for de-mineralizing tooth structures may have a positive effect on cancer cells.

As Oral Cancer Awareness Month winds down, new research has been released linking an unlikely condition to this sometimes fatal disease.  The Oral Cancer Foundation has stated that about 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2012, marking the fifth year in a row in which this number has increased.  Unfortunately for many, diagnoses often occur in the later stages of the dangerous disease, leaving only a 50% survival rate at best.  When caught early, that rate jumps to an astounding 80-90%, leading many to believe that education about early warning signs and risk factors is key.  The Dental Tribune article, “Oral cancer on the rise in the US; Americans unaware of major risk factors,” details the latest findings.

A recent national survey questioned 1,024 Americans, aged 18 and over, about their current knowledge of oral cancer.  The good news is that 83% of participants knew that smoking and chewing tobacco are risk factors for the disease.  On the other hand, very few were aware of other risk factors, such as alcohol consumption and human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection.  This means that heavy smokers and drinkers are not the only ones at risk for this disease; anyone who is sexually active is potentially in danger.  The study also showed that women are slightly more aware of oral cancer risk factors than men (40% as compared to 33%), however neither gender demonstrated much knowledge about the link between HPV and the disease.

Brian Hill, founder and executive director of the Oral Cancer Foundation, has much experience with the disease, as he is a stage-four oral cancer survivor.  According to Hill, oral cancer is one of the few types of cancer that hasn’t experienced a decline in fatalities in recent years, leading many to believe that education is key.  He believes that everyone over the age of 18 is potentially at risk and should seek an annual oral cancer screening, available at most dental offices.  Hill states that because people are unaware of the risk factors, they are not proactive about screening, which is crucial in early detection of the disease, which in turn significantly raises the survival rate.  Through Oral Cancer Awareness Month, the organization is hoping to educate as many people as possible about the seriousness of this disease.

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