I. Stephen Brown, DDS
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Pathogens Contributing to Oral Cancer

Friday, October 30th, 2020


A new study posted in last month’s issue of PLOS Pathogens (1) by Yvonne Kapila of the University of California, San Francisco, has determined that pathogens surrounding the teeth are a leading contributor to a highly aggressive form of Oral Squamous cell Carcinoma (OSCC), commonly known as oral cancer. As a result, regular oral cancer screenings are advised to high-risk patients including tobacco smokers and regular alcohol consumers and should be incorporated as part of a good oral health routine.

Dr. I. Stephen Brown and The Perio Group team offer oral cancer screenings alongside a wide range of dental treatments to identify early signs of oral malignancies and select the right treatment for patients that are found to have the oral disease that can be closely linked to pathogens within the oral cavity.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is a term that describes any cancer that develops in the mouth or at the back of the throat. While several forms of oral cancer exist, over 90% of all oral cancers are defined as Oral Squamous Cell carcinoma (OSCC). This occurs when the fish-scale looking squamous cells found on the skin surface tissues are mutated. It can start out as any of the following, before spreading to other parts of the body;

  • Buccal mucosa cancer,
  • Floor of mouth cancer,
  • Gum cancer,
  • Hard palate cancer,
  • Lip cancer,
  • Tongue cancer.

Less common forms of mouth cancer include Oral Verrucous Carcinoma and Oral Melanoma, which can develop in the pigment-producing cells within any part of the oral cavity. When diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate of oral cancer is 84% (2). However, this rate does fall significantly if the cancer is allowed to spread. An oral cancer screening with Dr. Brown and his team will help you stay in control of the situation.

Pathogens causing oral cancer

Pathogens are any organism that can cause a disease. In relation to oral health, this may cover viruses, bacteria, and various other microorganisms. Unfortunately, this issue often goes unnoticed by patients due to a lack of pain while visible changes may be hard to spot due to their location too. This is one of the reasons that, in addition to the 9,750 annual deaths, oral cancer patients are up to 20 times (3) more likely to develop a secondary cancer.

While risk factors do extend to smoking, alcohol consumption, and human papilloma virus infection, Kapila’s study into the impact of periodontal pathogens in the development, progression and metastasis of OSCC tumors has been quite conclusive. It identified three oral pathogens as problematic for cell migration, invasion, and tumor growth. They are;

  • Porphyromonas gingivalis,
  • Treponema denticola,
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum.

The studies conducted on mice analyzed mediation through two pathways, integrin/FAK, and TLR/MyDD88, and determined that processes were inhibited by treatment with the nisin bacteriocin while also indicating its therapeutic potential as an antimicrobial and anticancer agent, which could subsequently inhibit the pathogen-mediated cancer formation.

It is suggested that the findings of Kapila’s study could alter the future of oral cancer treatment, with a greater focus on antimicrobial-based therapies. In turn, it may hold the key to finally unlocking an increased rate of five-year survival after decades of hovering around the 55% mark across patients of all oral cancers and stages. Crucially, an increased understanding of the role that pathogens play can further boost the impact of oral cancer screenings.

Diagnosing mouth cancer with oral screenings

The statistics are pretty clear regarding the importance of finding oral cancer at the earliest stage. It will boost survival rates from the initial cancer while simultaneously reducing the threat of developing secondary cancers. A professional screening with Dr. Brown can look for the presence of pathogens on the tissues surrounding the teeth, as well as other oral cancer symptoms, including lumps and various types of cell degeneration.

Comprehensive oral cancer screenings cover a wide range of factors to test all potential cancer sources.

Extraoral screenings

External examinations will include checking the entire face for a range of issues, such as;

  • Asymmetry,
  • Masses,
  • Swelling,
  • Discoloration,
  • Pigmented skin.

Further steps will include checking the eyes for swelling during movement, analyzing the nasal passages and the neck. The thyroid and lips will additionally undergo screenings.

Intraoral cavity examination

Internal examinations of oral cavities will include visual inspections in which Dr. Brown will use a gloved hand to move the tongue and gain visible access to the tongue, hard and soft palate, tonsils, floor of mouth, and buccal mucosa as well as the tissues surrounding the teeth.

Each part of the examination will look for different signs of oral cancer, which could include;

  • Swelling,
  • Discoloration,
  • Lumps,
  • Lesions,
  • Ulcerations,
  • Other abnormalities.

The examinations will be conducted using various dental appliances that allow for even greater visibility, including a gauze and added light. The examination should only take a few minutes to complete while Dr. Brown ensures a comfortable and safe setting for all patients.

In addition to examining your mouth for signs of cancer, the oral screening can look for additional oral health conditions while also checking your overall oral health. Following the examinations, then, you may be provided helpful advice on how to stay on top of your oral health and reduce the likelihood of getting oral cancer in the future (such as quitting smoking), which makes it a useful procedure even if it is found that no symptoms are present.

Contact Dr. Brown to arrange an oral cancer screening today

Have you noticed changes to your oral health, or wish to gain peace of mind by ruling out the development of oral cancer? If so, contact us to arrange your oral cancer screening today! The Perio Group proudly provides a safe dental practice that has been adapted to meet COVID-19 regulations to keep you protected while still providing the same high standards of dental care throughout every stage of your oral cancer screening. To find out more, including what steps we’ve taken, give us a call today!