Here at the dental office we are all about prevention: Fluoride to prevent cavities, good oral hygiene to prevent gum disease, regular dental checkups to prevent small problems from becoming large ones. When we clean patient’s teeth the technical term is prophylaxis, we say prophy for short; the word prophylaxis actually means the prevention of disease. Now we can even prevent many head and neck cancers!
There are two types of oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers. One is HPV positive and one is HPV negative. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) November 2011 issue, there has been a huge increase in the number of HPV positive head and neck cancers, and a drop in the HPV negative ones. In 20 years the number of HPV positive oropharyngeal cancers has increased from 16.3% to 72.7%.
We have two bits of good news in this article. The HPV negative cancers are decreasing most likely due to, “Declines in smoking and tobacco use”. Yay, Americans are finally getting a clue and quitting smoking.
The other good news is that the HPV positive cancers can often be prevented. “Approximately 90-95% of HPV positive oropharyngeal cancers were caused by one HPV type – HPV 16, which is targeted by vaccines for cervical cancer.” The article goes on to say that, “With HPV vaccines, we have a great opportunity to potentially prevent oropharynx cancers in future generations”.
While more studies need to be done, the potential for a cancer vaccine is amazing. Sign me up! Too bad I’m too old to benefit from it. However, if I were young, or had a youngster, you better believe I’d be signing up for any and all cancer vaccines.