Oral Cancer: The Shadow Behind Your Smile

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One person dies every hour, every day from oral cancer.

Often underrated, it is the sixth largest cancer. More than 40 percent of those diagnosed will die within five years, making oral cancer more deadly than breast, cervical, Hodgkin's, prostate, liver, testicular, kidney, thyroid and colon cancers. It's also on the rise with an 11 percent increase in 2007 alone, and the third year in a row that this increase has occurred.

While once considered a disease of heavy smokers and alcoholics, a new cause has shifted the focus to much younger people with no other risk factors. Exposure to HPV-16 and HPV-18 virus (human papiloma virus) transmitted by oral sex has become a major concern as this infection, the same one responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women, is being spread quickly.

There has been a five times increase in the occurrence of oral cancer under the age of 40, with annual screening recommended for all patients over the age of 17. The link to HPV infection is making oral cancer, in reality, "the cancer you can catch."

Here's the good news_ Early detection screening for oral cancer improves survival to 90 percent. Technological advances in devices for the early detection of oral cancer has enabled abnormalities, precancerous and cancerous lesions to be found before they are observable to the naked eye. A new device called the Identifi 3000 ultra by the Trimira corporation, was developed with a multispectral technology using 3 different light wavelengths. It is a highly portable, hand-held battery operated instrument that emits a powerful white, violet and green/amber light that excites the oral tissues in distinct ways to uncover, what could be, a deadly lesion lurking in the mouth. The white light enables surface irregularities such as raised patches to be seen clearly, the violet light uses tissue fluorescence to identify any abnormal tissue growth which shows up black, and the green/amber light uses tissue reflectance to examine blood vessels and discover any abnormal blood supply.

While most dentists and dental hygienists are proficient in performing an oral cancer exam, many are still NOT using the assistance of an early detection device which improves the patients survival rate dramatically. By the time a cancerous lesion is observed unaided, it is often a more advanced stage 3 or stage 4 cancer with a survival rate of only 35-40 percent.

While regular early detection screening is key, so is prevention! Remember the A-List:

1. Avoidheavy alcohol, tobacco and risky sexual behavior.

2. Anti-inflammatory diets.Eliminate inflammatory dietary triggers like dairy, gluten, refined sugars and flours, dyes and preservatives. Inflammation, especially chronic, has been linked to normal cells changing into abnormal or cancerous cells.

3. Antioxidantrich foods. Some studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables lowers your risk for oral cancer.

4. Alkalize.Several studies have shown that cancer cells cannot propagate in an alkaline state. So juice those greens.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to