Traditionally, cancers of the head and neck, such as oral cancer, were predominately caused by smoking. Although smoking rates and smoking-related cancers have declined, the number of head and neck cancers has not. Why, you ask? Because there's a new culprit on the loose: human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is not only responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer and most cases of anal cancer – this group of over 150 viruses is also responsible for an increasing number of head and neck cancers. In the past 20 years, the number of throat cancers caused by HPV has more than tripled. Common symptoms of oral cancer include swelling, bumps, white or red discolored spots, bleeding, pain, and/or tenderness in the mouth.
People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing oral cancer – specifically, cancers of the gums and labial mucosa (the inner lining of the lips) – than the general population.
A non-invasive mouth swab, done at your doctor or dentist's office, can screen for oral HPV. With 1 in 15 Americans today infected with oral HPV (infection rates are higher among men than women), it's a good idea to get yourself tested. The CDC recommends HPV vaccinations for females age 11-26 and males age 11-21. The vaccine is not currently licensed in the United States for men or women over the age of 26. Talk to your doctor about having yourself or your children vaccinated.
Visit www.cdc.gov/hpv for more information on the human papillomavirus.
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