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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Regular Screening Required to Prevent Oral Cancers: Why everyone should have an oral cancer exam, guides Dr. John H. Upton, Jr.

Nov 30, 2013 11:07AM ● By John H. Upton Jr., DDS

Almost 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or throat cancer this year. The five-year survival rate of those diagnosed is only slightly more than 64 percent, so 8,000 people will die each year from the disease. The death rate is high because oral cancer is often discovered late in its development. When cancer is detected and treated early by means of regular oral cancer examinations from a dental professional, treatment-related health problems are reduced.

Research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. Those at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer are heavy drinkers and smokers, but the human papilloma virus 16 (HPV) is the fastest-growing cause of oral cancer. No longer is the male over the age of 60 that uses tobacco the only patient that requires a screening for oral cancer. Now, it includes younger patients. HPV has been shown to be sexually transmitted between partners, and is conclusively implicated in the increasing incidence of non-smoking oral cancer patients. This is the same virus that causes 90 percent of all cervical cancers.

Just as we know to get a mammogram for breast cancer and a pap smear for cervical cancer, patients also need to get an oral cancer exam. Published studies show that currently fewer than 25 percent of those that visit a dentist regularly report having had an oral cancer screening. Patients need to be educated about what dental professionals look for during a screening. Our mouth is one of our body's most important early warning system. Even though we may be conducting frequent self-exams, sometimes dangerous spots or sores in the mouth can be very tiny and difficult to see on our own.

The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every three years for persons over age 20 and annually for those over age 40. During their next dental appointment, patients should ask their dentist to perform an oral exam. This new topic for family discussion can be a proactive, life-saving boon.

Dr. Upton is the owner of the Arrowhead Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry, 18555 N. 79th Ave., Ste. A-104, in Glendale. He is offering free oral cancer screenings to readers that mention Natural Awakenings. For more information, call 623-878-6333 or visit


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