HPV Research Shows Everyone Is At Risk for Deadly Oral Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Dentists have always been viewed as essential to maintaining patients' dental health, but today's dentists are playing the role of life-savers. That's a result of new findings concerning deadly oral cancer, and new tools being used by dentists to detect it.

It has long been recognized that oral cancer kills one American every hour, but even health experts thought the primary causes were smoking and heavy drinking, and the main victims were older men. Fresh research and a new FDA-approved technology are putting a whole new light on all-too-common, and all-too-deadly oral cancer, indicating new causes and much younger male and female victims.

Johns Hopkins researchers, writing in the February 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reported that the sexually transmitted HPV virus, a major cause of cervical cancer, causes as many cancers of the upper throat as tobacco and alcohol combined. Oral sex is the likely method of transmission. The researchers say HPV is the primary cause of some 5,600 cancers per year in the tonsils, lower tongue and upper throat. And, they found, the incidence rate for HPV-related oral cancers among males has been rising steadily for three decades. Co-author Dr. Maura Gillison told the Associated Press, "If current trends continue, within the next 10 years there may be more oral cancers in the United States caused by HPV than tobacco or alcohol."


HPV isn't the only newly identified culprit. Cell phones have been found to be a likely cause of oral cancer as well. In Israel, where mobile phones were adopted early and where use is especially intense, Tel Aviv University cancer specialist Dr. Siegal Sadetzki studied nearly 500 people diagnosed with benign and malignant salivary gland tumors. Dr. Sadetzki told the London Telegraph, "The amount of exposure to radio frequency radiation found in this study has been higher than in previous cell phone studies. This unique population has given us an indication that cell phone use is associated with cancer."

"Everyone is at risk for oral cancer," says Dr. Omer Reed, Phoenix-based dentists and international dental practice consultant, "but no one has to suffer, let alone die from this disease." Reed says dentists across the U.S. and Canada offer a 5-minute "glow-stick" exam called ViziLite Plus that has been approved by the FDA to help dentists detect abnormal tissue that may be cancerous or pre-cancerous. After the patient rinses with a special solution, the dentist examines the mouth with a disposable wand whose chemicals emit light of a special wavelength. Under the light, abnormal tissue appears bright white; it is immediately marked with a special temporary dye called TBlue630. Research has shown that the dye reduces false positives by more 50%, while detecting 100% of cancers actually present in the mouth.

A growing number of insurance companies are covering this new glow-stick exam; the most recent is HumanaDental, which began coverage April 1. More information on oral cancer is available at OralCancerFoundation.org. A zip-code directory of dentists using the ViziLite Plus technology can be found at www.vizilite.com.

"The mouth is the gateway to the body," says Dr. Reed. "Oral health is a good indicator of total health. A fast and pain-free oral cancer exam should be part of every adult's annual dental check-up."