Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Dental Visit And Oral Cancer Scare - What You Need to Know

Most of us are concerned with a constellation of other cancers, including prostate, lungs, breast, skin and the liver and kidney cancers John Phillips has linked to consuming GMO foods. But off the radar is oral cancer, which kills one American every hour.  A fact I learned yesterday at the regular 6 month dental cleaning and periodontal exam.

The dentist strongly suggested getting the Visilite test at the end of the cleaning and exam, given the incidence has been increasing - especially among males. I agreed, and probably also learned more about oral cancer, its emergence and treatment then I ever wanted to know. (And here I am still dealing with getting psa tests after radiation treatment nearly a year and a half ago. But good news there - at least the psa went down for once - from 2.8 to 2.5).

The Visilite test begins with filling one's mouth with one half of a small bottle of liquid tasting only somewhat less vile than the stuff they prescribe drinking before a colonoscopy. The taste was roughly similar to a strong raspberry vinaigrette that's gone off. You hold it for a minute, swish and gargle at the end- then it's time to take the other half bottle. The same procedure is followed, after which you are left waiting five minutes for the concoction to do its work and stain the tissues that need to be examined using the Visilite.

The dentist then begins probing  all around the mouth with the Visilite, from left to right side, while also pushing on the gum tissue, then peering down the throat (which is why you're asked to gargle too.)  In attendance too is the dental hygienist taking notes. About halfway through I heard the ominous words:

"Lesion on soft palate on left side."

When the exam concluded, she obviously had my attention and I asked about the lesion discovered. She said it was "unremarkable" and described it as keratotic tissue. This basically refers to any kind of tissue that increases the thickness of the epithelium and causes it to appear white. Generally it arises from a (genetic ) condition called hyper-keratosis where any excess keratin becomes drenched with saliva and appears white. It can also happen with cheek biting or use of tobacco products, either from chewing tobacco (smokeless tobacco induced keratosis) or nicotine stomatitis.

When I asked regarding the cancer risk on a 1-10 scale she replied: "I give a '3'."

She didn't appear to worry too much - she was more concerned with a periodontal (gum loss)  measurement of 6mm at one rear molar. (For which a "deep cleaning and scaling" was prescribed at a later date.)  In any case she said oral cancer was far more prevalent among younger males in the 18-34 age group, particularly those who have regularly engaged in oral sex.

The culprit for the younger set? HPV or human papilloma virus which can reside in the cervix and is taken in during oral sex. Unless the female has had the HPV vaccine, she is likely to spread it to unsuspecting males. It may linger for years with the guy unaware of the cancer that has been triggered until finally some disconcerting event, perhaps a difficulty in swallowing, leads to a medical intervention.

I asked what the treatment would be if the lesion discovered in my mouth becomes cancerous and the dentist said: "We'd have to surgically excise it."

I was also interested in the fact that most people who get oral cancer have no adverse life style indicators: they don't smoke, they don't chew tobacco, they don't use alcohol to excess and they rarely ever perform oral sex. In this case, I asked whether external factors like chemical agents or even GMO foods could be responsible for the onset, and she said "It's possible, but we don't have enough information.".

Other stats show the high incidence for oral cancer has been around at least the past 40 years. Whatever is causing it, and if it exists in the environment, must be widespread  - and I suspect, chemical. Perhaps a pesticide or weedicide - left on foods that aren't organic - but consumed by many people? Maybe.

The search goes on but in the meantime getting the Visilite oral cancer check may be in your best interest!

3 comments:

Javier Portocarrero said...

I agree with this post. Most people worry too much about other trivial types of cancer when in fact oral cancer is something that is a danger to almost everyone. Oral hygiene is something that most Americans actually forget to maintain, which could result in really severe oral problems.

Javier Portocarrero @ Alluring Smiles

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