PORTLAND -- Your dentist may soon play an important role in the fight against cancer.
Through a simple saliva test, dentists can now screen for viruses that cause oral cancer. Dr. Kelly Blodgett on SE Belmont St. is now testing patients regardless of age or gender.
"Historically, we tend to think of the older male who smokes and drinks as the person who is really at risk for oral cancer and that's really not the case anymore," said Blodgett. "we're finding that as time goes on :36 younger people are at high risk because of this HPV that's out there."
Certain strains of HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, are directly linked to oral cancer.
"Yes, HPV-16 causes 90-95% of all oral cancers that are HPV-caused," said Kelli Jaecks, a Clinical Specialist with OralDNA Labs, Inc. OralDNA Labs analyzes the saliva samples from Blodgett's patients. It's trying to recruit more dentists to this cause as cases of this mostly skin-to-skin transmitted HPV infection are on the rise, especially in young women.
"HPV is fast-becoming the number one reason that a person would get oral cancer," said Jaecks. Intel engineer Doug Adams is now recovering from that ordeal. His cancer is now gone but the brush with death still weighs heavy on his mind. "Thinking about passing away and what will happen to my family," he explained.
Adams endured some of the most aggressive and painful cancer treatment available after doctors discovered a tumor in his throat. He says he hadn't seen his dentist for three years before the diagnosis.
So any existence of HPV went undetected. He urges everyone to see their dentist and request the screening, especially if they're not comfortable seeing a physician.
"When you look at it from a perspective of 'this could actually prevent me from having so much pain and eventually dying' it gives it a completely different spin," Adams said. Adams's cancer doctor, Dr. Peter Andersen, the
Director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at OHSU, welcomes the participation of dentists in screening saliva.
"I think it's a good thing," he said. While Andersen hopes dentists become an important weapon in oral cancer prevention, he points out that an expert physical exam from a trained physician is the key to detecting the actual existence of cancer in a patient. "Feel the neck, feel the thyroid gland," he explained. "And that's really the gold standard for screening." "We're still in the process of explaining it to people it's kind of a patient by patient thing," said the dentist, Dr. Blodgett.
His dental practice has been collecting saliva samples for a month. So far, it has detected no HPV. If one of his patients does test positive for HPV, Blodgett will re-test them in three months to learn whether their body was able to fight off the virus on its on. OHSU says tobacco use is still the obvious risk factor in oral cancer.
Dr. Andersen says a persistent earache in one ear and a mouth sore that never seems to go away are worth getting diagnosed. OHSU is offering a free, public cancer screening clinic in the lobby of the OHSU Center for Health & Healing on May 13 from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. No appointment is necessary.
The center is located at 3303 S.W. Bond Ave. in Portland (near the base of the Portland Aerial Tram).
About head and neck cancer (OHSU): http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/health/services/cancer/getting-treatment/services/head-neck-cancer.cfm
OralDNA Labs: http://oraldna.com/
About HPV and HPV vaccination (Marion County Public Health): http://www.marioncountyhealthdept.org/HPV.html