Larry Hagman, renowned TV actor who rose to fame playing J.R. Ewing in the television series “Dallas” and who also portrayed Major Nelson in the comedy series “I Dream of Jeannie,” passed away due to oral cancer.
This wasn’t Hagman’s first bout with cancer. Known to be an excessive smoker and drinker, Hagman was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and developed a cancerous tumor. He received a liver transplant in 1995. He eventually became a chairman for the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. Following the transplant he also supported the National Kidney Foundation and promoted organ donation.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral and pharyngeal cancer this year. Of those diagnosed, the foundation estimates that 57 percent will be alive in five years. Those odds are not great, and the number has not improved in recent decades.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Historically, the majority of oral cancer patients are over the age of 40 when it’s first diagnosed. But current data trends show it occurring more frequently in those under 40. The increase within this age demographic is attributed to a number of factors including HPV 16 or Human Papilloma Virus Number 16, and the increase of smokeless tobacco use among young men and women. Overall, oral cancer affects men more than women. For every 2 men diagnosed, one woman receives this diagnosis.
While risk factors point to age, recent research indicates that it may be accumulative damage from other risk factors such as alcohol consumption, tobacco use and persistent viral infections like HPV that may be the real offenders. Since it takes several decades for cancer to develop, smoking remains the number one risk factor for people over the age of 50. Research reveals that 75 percent of those diagnosed at the age of 50 or older were tobacco users. People who both smoke and drink are 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t participate in those activities.
Dentists at the Front Lines of Oral Cancer Detection
Besides avoiding tobacco and alcohol products, dental visits are another defense people can use in their fight against oral cancer. When we at Dr. Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD do an oral cancer screening we provide early detection of the disease by looking for any abnormalities in your mouth, gums, face and neck. As a rule of thumb, any lesion or sore present for over 2 weeks needs to be examined and diagnosed. If I am unsure of a particular lesion or lump we will either do a surface scraping or “brush biopsy” or refer you to a qualified oral surgeon for a more definitive biopsy. Most of the time these lesions are harmless, but occasionally we discover oral cancer. Early detection is essential. This is just but one more reason that routine dental examinations and cleanings may just save your life!
Until next time,
Dr. Mark W. Langberg, DDS, MAGD
26206 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 303
Southfield, MI 48034