Dentists are sounding the alarm about oral cancer and young people. The number of cases is expected to rise, and this time the problem isn't tobacco.
"One of the most common places oral cancer is on the side of the tongue," said Dr. Lee Fitzgerald, dentist. "If anything, we're seeing a rise in oral cancer and it's not due to tobacco or alcohol. It's due to HPV."
The Human Papilloma Virus, which can cause cervical cancer, can also lead to cancers of the mouth.
"They need to know that a lot of different behaviors have consequences for becoming infected," said Fitzgerald.
Your regular dental exam should include a screening for oral cancer. Dr. Edmond Truelove of the University of Washington School of Dentistry/Oral Cancer did research on the velscope for detecting oral cancer. He says dentists have gotten the message to screen, but that's not enough.
"One of the big difficulties, however, is many people don't go to the dentist often enough, so they don't get those kind of routine screenings," said Truelove.
The results can be disfiguring.
"When it happens to you, it is extremely devastating," said Norbert Sobek, oral cancer patient.
Rick Agee has a similar story.
"It's been difficult because it affects your eating and swallowing," said Agee.
Smoking and alcohol use are the traditional risk factors for oral cancer and newer studies show that diets low in fruits and vegetables can also increase the risk.
Even though most oral cancers don't develop until age 40, precancerous lesions can appear much earlier, but that's also when treatment is most effective.
"I think anyone over about 21 years of age ought to begin to pay attention," said Truelove.
Truelove says prevention is key.
"So it's a lifestyle problem, in part. If people quit engaging in behaviors that are risky and live a better life, relative to fruits and vegetables, they can probably reduce their risk," he said.
The Oral Cancer Foundation has more information on how to talk openly to your kids about HPV and the risks of oral cancer.
Click on the following links for more information:Oral Cancer Foundation