Tag Archives: VELscope

Coffee & Cancer: Java to the Rescue?

Some research can’t help but be greeted with a yawn, “duh!” or rolling eyes – like the obesity study done a couple years ago at Tel Aviv University. Participants sat around doing nothing more than eating, playing games and reading. The conclusion? Relaxing can make you fatter. (There’s actually a rationale for such “duh” studies, which you can read about here.)

coffee_greenAt the other end of the spectrum are studies that surprise, such as the one on oral and throat cancer published last month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Analyzing data from a 26 year span of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II, researchers found that people who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee a day were at a 49% lower risk of death from throat or oral cancer as those who occasionally or never take coffee. (Full research article here)

This isn’t to say coffee is a magic bullet against these cancers. Far better to start by eliminating risk factors such as tobacco and heavy alcohol use, a poor, sugar-rich diet and unsafe sexual practices. (As mentioned, the virus responsible for the recent rise in oral cancer rates – HPV – is most often sexually transmitted.)

Yes, moderation and healthy living may sound less adventurous than whiling away the bohemian hours at your favorite hip coffee shop, but they’re your health’s most reliable friend.

Because oral and throat cancers can be hard to see in their early – and thus, easiest to successfully treat phase – it’s also important to see your dentist regularly for screening. Here in Dr. Erwin’s office, all adult patients are screened annually with VELscope. This device uses a blue excitation light to identify tissues that need a closer look. If any are found, we go to the next step: a CDX brush test, which is likewise painless and non-invasive.

Oral Cancer Screening at a Glance

And then there’s coffee – perhaps – with its beneficial effects. The current belief is that these come courtesy of phytochemicals. These are naturally occurring compounds in plants that often have antioxidant properties, and a number of those found in coffee may contribute in the fight against cancer.

Now the bad news: Coffee is also one of the top causes for tooth enamel damage. Not only does it stain, but it makes the oral cavity temporarily more acidic, giving a boost to some of the bacteria that want nothing more than to leave you in dentures. If you do drink coffee, be sure to wait 20 to 30 minutes before brushing your teeth afterwards. This gives your saliva time to neutralize those acids. Brushing while conditions are still acidic further raises risk of enamel erosion.

Stains, we can remove. Once enamel’s gone, it’s gone.

Learn more about oral and throat cancers

Image byTakkk, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Oral Cancer Pandemic & How You Can Keep Yourself Safe

Once upon a time, oral cancer was a disease limited largely to tobacco users and heavy drinkers. For all others, the risks were thought to be very low, and the rate of disease remained fairly steady.

And then it started going up. And fast.

How fast?

Between 1974 and 2007, cases of white men with oral cancer shot up by 225%.

At the same time, there was a five fold increase in young adults with oral cancer.

Incidence has especially skyrocketed for women. In 1950, for every 6 men who developed oral cancer, only one woman did. Today, that ratio has narrowed to 2 : 1.

What happened?

HPV – human papilloma virus. This sexually transmitted virus, most known for causing cervical cancer, is now a major cause of oral cancer. Over half of us are at risk for contracting HPV at some point in our lives.

Perhaps you saw the recent episode of Dr. Oz dealing with these issues. If you missed it, you can watch it here – and I highly recommend that you do. He gives an excellent, plain-language overview of the issue, including discussion of warning signs/early symptoms and demonstrations of the different exams your dentist should perform so that if you do develop cancer, it can be caught and treated as early as possible.

As a rule, I screen each of my adult patients for cancer once a year using a tool called VELscope. This technology lets us look beneath the mouth’s soft tissues for lesions and abnormal growths that may indicate beginning oral cancers. VELscope testing is completely non-invasive and painless. We just aim a blue excitation light at the tissues and see how they respond: healthy areas appear fluorescent and problem areas, dark. I’ve used this device in my practice for several years now – not as an “extra” but as an essential.

If VELscope detects a problem, the next thing we do is an oral CDX brush test, which Dr. Oz’s guest dentist describes as a “pap smear for the mouth.” This procedure, too, is non-invasive and painless. We merely use a special brush to take a sample of cells from the problem area(s), save them on a slide and send them to a lab for analysis.

You can see these early detection methods demonstrated in Part 4 and Part 5 of the Dr. Oz video – screening tools that help save lives by letting us find the cancer early enough for effective treatment.

Of course, the best course of action is to prevent the cancer from occurring in the first place. Key things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Be sure your dentist gives you an oral cancer screening at least once a year if not at every visit. If he or she doesn’t – or if you’re not sure – ask for one.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • If you smoke or chew tobacco, quit. (And if you don’t, don’t start.)
  • Practice safer sex. Always use condoms and/or dental dams, or completely abstain from oral sex.

Also be aware of these warning signs and contact your dentist immediately if you develop one or more of them:

  • A white or red patch in your mouth, or a sore that doesn’t heal within two weeks
  • Sore throat or ear pain, typically on just one side of the head, that doesn’t go away within two weeks
  • A lump in your neck
  • Voice changes or hoarseness that last more than a week

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