As part of Oral Cancer Awareness Month this April, the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City is sharing tips for prevention while offering free screenings to those who may be at risk—a growing number, as the American Cancer Society expects nearly 50,000 Americans to develop oral cavity and oropharynx head and neck cancers in 2017.
These cancers are prevalent in the tongue, throat, voice box, nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, thyroid, and salivary glands. While tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are major risk factors, especially for males over the age of 50 years, human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer, and incidents are rising among the younger population.
In fact, HPV cases make up approximately 60% to 70% of all tonsil-based and tongue-based cancers in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 9,000 people are diagnosed with throat cancer caused by HPV each year. Meanwhile, a Harris Interactive Survey shows 71% of Americans have not been examined for these cancers, even though early detection is essential to curing the disease.
“The best chance of effectively treating these cancers is early on in the disease, and that’s why identification of tumors in their earliest stage improves a patient’s likelihood of survival and the patient’s ability to speak and swallow normally after treatment,” said Ilya Likhterov, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“While oral cancer is most commonly linked to longtime smokers and drinkers, younger patients can be affected even if they don’t have obvious risk factors. It is very important to have your mouth examined and pay attention to symptoms such as pain, bleeding, trouble swallowing, or if you notice any would or ulcer in the mouth that is not healing quickly,” said Likhterov.
No registration, appointment, or preparation is required for Mount Sinai’s free oral, head, and neck cancer screenings, which take 15 minutes. Screenings include an examination of the neck and inspection of the oropharynx and the mouth. They are scheduled for:
- Thursday, April 6, from 10 am to 2 pm at the Mount Sinai Hospital, Guggenheim Pavilion, 1468 Madison Avenue at 100th Street, New York City;
- Friday, April 7, from 10 am to 1 pm at Mount Sinai Downtown-Union Square, 10 Union Square East, Phillips Ambulatory Care Center, second floor, New York City.
Meanwhile, dental professionals across the country are encouraged to discuss risk factors with their patients and perform screenings as well. Key facts to note during these discussions include the following:
- Smokers generally develop head and neck cancer in their sixties.
- Men are twice as likely to be affected because of smoking patterns.
- For HPV-related throat cancer, nonsmoking males aged 35 to 55 years are at highest risk, though doctors are starting to see more cases in women.
- Initial symptoms of oral, head, and neck cancer include a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal, sore throat, trouble swallowing, lumps or patches in the mouth, changes in the voice, or a lump in the neck.
- 50% of people with head and neck cancers have very advanced cases by the time they first see a doctor.
Additionally, Mount Sinai offers the following tips for prevention that dental professionals can share with their patients:
- Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products.
- Don’t drink alcohol frequently or heavily, especially in combination with tobacco use.
- Limit sun exposure and regularly use sunscreen, including lip balm with a strong SPF factor.
- Reduce your risk of HPV infection by limiting your number of sexual partners, as having many partners increases the risk of HPV infection. Also, condoms do not fully protect you from HPV during sex.
- Maintain proper care of dentures. Poorly fitting dentures can trap the cancer-causing substances in tobacco and alcohol. Denture wearers should have their dentures evaluated by a dentist at least every 5 years to ensure a good fit. Dentures should be removed every night and cleaned and rinsed thoroughly every day