Oral Sex. Dr. Oz says a lot of folks think that this is a safer way to go. But his show today proved to be a cautionary wake up call that it is not! Oral Cancer is deadly and is on the rise. Women are at high risk. It is spread by oral sex and is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus that’s responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancer in women. The good news? It is one of the easiest cancers to spot, diagnose, and treat. With early diagnosis your chances of a cure is 80 to 90%. Yet one in four people with oral cancer will die because they were not diagnosed and treated in time. What do we need to know to change these odds?
The typical oral cancer patient used to be a drinker or smoker and twice as likely to be a man like Michael Douglas who was diagnosed with late stage four cancer last year. So many in the medical profession and patients themselves don’t always think to look for oral cancer when something is amiss. So the diagnosis is often missed until it is too late!
Dr. Bert W. O’Malley, Jr M.D. Head and Neck Surgeon, tells Dr. Oz that HPV is now the number one cause of oral cancer and is on the rise so seriously that it is truly a 21st-century pandemic. It’s a sexually transmitted disease and the scary fact is that 50%, one out of every two of us, is at risk of HPV infection. And the predominant mode of transmission is oral sex.
Another guest, Dr. Jonathan Levine, DMD, Dentist and Oral Health Expert, explains that early detection is the key for cure and that the first line of defense for early detection is our dentist visits. We see young people, low risk people who do not drink alcohol or do not smoke coming down with these cancers. They need to be in the dental office regularly and during the visit demand (because the dentist will not always offer) an Oral Cancer Screening. What can you expect from a screening? Dr. Levine demonstrated the following on a audience volunteer.
- He manually examined all the soft tissue in the mouth. With a gloved hand and using his fingers, he actively pulled and stretched the open mouth area to thoroughly look at the lips, inside of the cheeks, the gums, the upper and underside of the tongue and the throat.
- The dentist may use a new tech device called a Velscope that uses a special light that highlights abnormal cells early, when the cells are just changing from healthy to unhealthy. Expect the dentist to give you protective eyeglasses to wear during the examination.
- If something abnormal is found, cells need to be removed and sent to a lab to test for cancer. Dr. Levine used an OralCDx Brush test which uses a very small brush device to painlessly remove the biopsy specimen.
Where do we find cancers in our mouths? Dr. Oz explains:
- Oral Cancer can present on the outside of the mouth. You can get oral cancer on your lips. That is classically related to UV radiation. That’s why it is important that you have sunscreen(UV light protection) in your lip balm.
- Look on your tongue, the tip, the side areas, the underside of your tongue and under your tongue.
- Look at the back of your mouth, where the tonsils are at the back of your throat, the oropharynx. That is where the new HPV virus related cancers are showing up because that is where the virus is sticking, unlike the old type of oral cancers that appear on the tip of the tongue and the gums.
What are the early warnings signs we should be aware of?
- A white or red patch in your mouth or a sore that won’t heal. You might mistake it for a canker sore. A canker sore will start to go away in about seven to 10 days. After 14 days it’s a warning. Get it checked out
- Sore throat or ear pain. The sore throat can be a common sign of many conditions. However, pain in the ear, not so common. Cancer related ear pain would be caused by the inflammation in the back of the throat and is typically only on one side, especially if it’s in combination with a sore throat. Two weeks is the key factor. After two weeks consult a physician.
- Lump in your neck. This is a very common sign of HPV related cancers. The lump is actually a metastasis, a spreading out of the cancer from its original site such as the back of the throat to the lymph nodes in the neck. This would actually be an advanced stage.
- Change in voice quality or hoarseness. Temporary hoarseness usually goes away in a couple days. After seven or eight days, if you’re still worse you should get it checked out. The hoarseness indicates you may be growing tumors on or around your vocal cord area.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So how do we prevent oral cancer? Dr. Oz let’s us know!
- Demand an oral cancer screening with every dentist visit, but at least one a year.
- Limit alcohol and tobacco use
- Limit exposure to UV radiation. Make sure your lip balm has a high SPF rating
- Practice safe sex. Dr. Oz say what he means. is that we need to change the way we had sex in America. Your sex partner must wear a condom throughout your entire sexual partnership or completely abstain from oral sex. The more we continually have transmission of HPV virus into the mouth, the more and more we will have these oral cancers showing up.
A message from Melissa – Cancer Survivor
Dr. Oz introduced us to Melissa who had two of the early warning signs of cancer and she just didn’t know it.
She was 31 years old at the time and had never heard of oral cancer especially at her age. It was a HPV related cancer.
She had a blister on the side of her tongue and she bought some canker sore medication. But it didn’t go away. When she went to the dentist for teeth cleaning, the dentist said she should get it checked out but he really didn’t think that was anything. She had the sore for about a year and when she got pregnant she decided she had better get it checked. When the oral surgeon saw it he instantly knew it was oral cancer and the biopsy confirmed it.
Three weeks later she was in surgery and had a partial removal of part of her tongue. A little more than 50% of her lymph nodes from the left side of her neck was also removed. At that time, the surgeon didn’t think she needed radiation. Five months later her baby girl was born.
Four months after her baby’s birth she developed a lump on the right side of her neck. It was stage two cancer. She immediately had surgery and followed by 33 treatments of radiation and chemotherapy treatments in 7 weekly visits.
Today she is five months post treatment and feels good. But she wants us to learn from her story that early detection is key to beating this disease.
Melissa, Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful baby! Thank you for sharing!
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