Posts for tag: oral cancer
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
After her husband, producer Bruce Paltrow, succumbed to oral cancer in 2002, actress Blythe Danner made it her mission to help save other families from the heartache she and her children (Jake and Gwyneth Paltrow) suffered with his loss. Now active with the Oral Cancer Foundation, Blythe uses her fame to bring awareness to the disease, which she says she and her family knew very little about before Bruce received his diagnosis.
In an interview with People magazine, Blythe said she believes her husband's cancer could have been detected earlier if the family had been alert to the symptoms.
“For months I had noticed Bruce's voice was hoarse,” she said. “I started asking him to see a doctor. But he kept saying, ‘No, no, no, I'm fine.’ ”
When a lump became visible in his neck, he did go to the doctor and found he had a tumor in his throat. The cancer eventually spread to his lymph nodes. Compounding Blythe's sadness is the feeling that she might have been able to do something to prevent her husband's death.
“I feel tremendously guilty,” she told the magazine, noting that she wishes she had simply insisted her husband get himself checked out. “Education and early detection are so important,” she said of her campaign to raise awareness. “That's why I'm doing this.”
Though Bruce Paltrow was a smoker, it's important to note that young, non-smokers comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population being diagnosed with the disease. That's because a sexually transmitted virus known as HPV16 is now a major cause of oral cancer.
Oral cancer screenings are yet another good reason to make regular semi-annual visits to the dentist. We have the training to notice oral abnormalities, and to monitor and/or biopsy any suspicious lesions. At your oral cancer screening, we will feel your neck for lumps and inspect your lips and all inside surfaces of the mouth, including the back of your throat.
Of course, if you or a loved one experience persistent hoarseness, white or red patches or other changes in your mouth or tongue that don't go away in a few weeks, please don't hesitate to come in and see us.