Oral Cancer Awareness and HPV

Oral Cancer Awareness and HPV

Matthew Norman, DDS and Michelle Phillips, RDH


It was once thought that the incidence of oral cancer was predominantly caused by the effects of tobacco and heavy alcohol use.  In recent years, we have changed this line of thinking to include the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in the group of leading oral cancer risk factors.  In fact, HPV-associated oral cancers are increasing at a more rapid rate than oral cancers associated with smoking and tobacco use. 


The American Cancer Society defines heavy alcohol use as two or more drinks per day for men, and one or more drink per day for women.  Tobacco use includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco.  Malignancies caused from tobacco and alcohol use are most commonly found in adults between 50-70 years old.  These lesions typically occur on the floor of the mouth (beneath tongue), tip of the tongue, lining of the cheek, and the attached tissue surrounding where the teeth are.

  tongue cancer

HPV is one of the most common virus groups across the world that affects skin and mucosal areas of the body.  The HPV virus is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and sexually transmitted.  HPV is now recognized as a risk factor for developing oral cancer and is often found in younger individuals.  Oral cancer lesions originating from the HPV virus typically occur on the tonsillar area, base of the tongue and throat areas. 


oral cancer exam

April is Oral Cancer Awareness month.  The oral cancer screen is an integral part of your doctor examination at all hygiene or maintenance visits.  It is very important to keep routine hygiene visits scheduled so that these screenings can be performed.  Your Norman Dental team members are the only healthcare professionals that routinely evaluate your oral condition and monitor for any abnormalities.

Early Detection is Key

Early Detection is Key

Matthew Norman, DDS and Michelle Phillips, RDH


Oral cancer is like any other cancer…the earlier it is detected, the better the outcome.  Oral cancer is cancer of the oral cavity, which includes:  the lips, tongue, lining of the cheek, palate (roof of the mouth), floor of the mouth (beneath tongue), gums, and throat.  Your team at Norman Dental performs a thorough oral cancer screening at every hygiene visit.


According to the American Cancer Society, about 36,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2013, and approximately 6,850 people will die from these cancers.1  The ACS  suggests that men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women, and these cancers are equally common amongst various races.

oral cancer tongue

Oral cancer doesn’t have just one “look”.  When we perform an oral cancer screening at Norman Dental, the Doctors look for the following conditions:

  • Red or white patches
  • A sore that bleeds easily, or doesn’t heal within 2 weeks
  • A lump
  • A rough or crusted area
  • Anything that looks “out of place”

Things you may notice:

  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • Changes in your voice
  • A lump in your neck
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Numbness, pain or tenderness


There are several avoidable risk factors associated with the development of oral cancer. oral cancer lipSmokers (cigarettes, pipes, or cigars), heavy drinkers (2+ drinks a day for men; 1+ drinks a day for women) and those that use smokeless tobacco are at a greater risk of developing oral cancer.  Prolonged sun exposure is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer on the lips.  Norman Dental provides chap-stick with SPF 15 sunscreen to help protect your lips.



Any lesion or sore in your mouth should heal within two weeks.  If ever you have an ulcer or sore that is still present after more than two-weeks, call our office so we can evaluate it.  When your dentist performs the oral cancer screening, we look for abnormalities in your mouth.  If an abnormality is detected, it is likely that we’ll have you return in two weeks to see if the lesion is gone.  If the lesion is still present, the next step is to perform a biopsy to gain a definitive diagnosis on the nature of the lesion.


It is very important to see your dentist regularly for hygiene visits so that you are being screened for oral cancer.  Your dentist is the only healthcare provider that thoroughly evaluates your mouth on a consistent basis and is in the best position to detect an abnormality early.  And remember, early detection is the key to a positive outcome!


1 American Cancer Society, “What are the key statistics about oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers?”,

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/oralcavityandoropharyngealcancer/detailedguide/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer-key-statistics, Feb 26, 2013.