VCU doctors: Oral cancer becoming most common HPV-related tumor

Posted at 7:28 AM, Apr 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-24 15:01:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. — April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and doctors at VCU’s School of Dentistry are urging people to get their HPV vaccination.

Early detection and prevention are the two most important tools to increase long-term survival against HPV, according to VCU assistant professor Dr. Sarah Glass.

“We actually see the rates of oral pharyngeal cancer exceeding that of cervical cancer as being the most commonly diagnosed HPV-related tumor. So we're getting protection for boys and girls by using the HPV vaccine,” Dr. Glass explained.

Dr. Glass also identifies cancerous cells in her patients and patients around Virginia as a pathologist.

HPV, or the human papilloma virus, is the most common STI that can cause warts.

Dentists and professionals, like Glass, from the Virginia Dental Association are urging the public to get their HPV vaccination and a routine oral cancer screening at their next dental visit.

The National Institutes of Health found the vaccine to reduce the prevalence of oropharyngeal HPV infection by 83%.

“Many people may not correlate oral cancers with HPV, but it’s actually one of the main causes,” said Virginia Dental Association President, Cynthia Southern, DDS, MS. “The HPV vaccine is proven to be a safe and effective way to protect yourself against infection. We encourage parents and young people to talk to your healthcare provider about getting the vaccine.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children ages 11–12 years should get two doses of the HPV vaccine, given six to 12 months apart. HPV vaccines can be administered starting at nine years old.

People under 26 years old should get the HPV vaccine if they are not fully vaccinated already. Individuals over 26 should speak to a healthcare provider.

In addition to the HPV vaccine, the Virginia Dental Association is emphasizing the importance of oral cancer screenings as part of routine dental exams.

Routine oral cancer screenings can also help detect cancers occurring in those in whom the typical risk factors of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption may not be present.

“HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer has risen over the past two decades, while oral cancer linked to tobacco and alcohol use has actually declined over the same time period,” says Dr. Southern. “That’s why making oral cancer screenings a part of the dental exam routine is crucial.”

During a regular dental visit, dentists will ask patients about their medical histories and if the person has experienced any new or unusual symptoms, in addition to examining the patient’s oral cavity, throat, jaw and neck.

People should see a dentist if the following signs and symptoms do not disappear in two weeks:

  • A sore or irritation that doesn't go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

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