Oral sex can get most men’s attention. The topic becomes considerably more relevant, however, when coupled with a new study linking the human papillomavirus (HPV) to an increased risk of a kind of oral cancer more often seen in men.

The study, which appears in the 2007 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), shows that men and women who reported having six or more oral-sex partners during their lifetime had a nearly nine fold increased risk of developing cancer of the tonsils or at the base of the tongue. Of the 300 study participants, those infected with HPV were also 32 times more likely to develop this type of oral cancer than those who did not have the virus. These findings dwarf the increased risk of developing this so-called oropharyngeal cancer associated with the two major risk factors: smoking (3 times greater) or drinking (2.5 times greater). HPV infection drives cancerous growth, as it is widely understood to do in the cervix. But unlike cervical cancer, this type of oral cancer is more prevalent in men.

HPV stands for human papillomavirus, but there are actually more than 100 related viruses in this group. Each HPV virus is given a number or type. The term “papilloma” refers to a kind of wart that results from some HPV types.

The Importance of Early Detection

Your dentist has recent good news about progress against cancer. It is now easier than ever to detect oral cancer early, when the opportunity for a cure is great. Only half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years.

We have the skills and tools to ensure that early signs of cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. You and your dentist can fight and win the battle against oral cancer. Know the early signs and see our office regularly.

You Should Know

* Oral Cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.
* It can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, check lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate.
* Other signs include:
o A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
o A color change of the oral tissues
o A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
o Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
o Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
o A change in the way the teeth fit together
* Oral Cancer most often occurs in those who use tobacco in any form.
* Alcohol use combined with smoking greatly increases risk.
* Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of lip cancer.
* Oral cancers can occur in people who do not smoke and have no other known risk factors.
* Oral Cancer is more likely to strike after age 40.
* Studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may prevent the development of potentially cancerous lesions.

Regular Dental Check-ups Important

Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination. Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. You may have a very small, but dangerous, oral spot or sore and not be aware of it.

We will carefully examine the inside of your mouth and tongue and in some patients may notice a flat, painless, white or red spot or a small sore. Although most of these are harmless, some are not. Harmful oral spots or sores often look identical to those that are harmless, but testing can tell them apart. If you have a sore with a likely cause, your dentist may treat it and ask you to return for re-examination.

In the future we will talk about the various testing methods available to help in early detection.

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