The Full PB Post Article on Oral Cancer

Speaking of oral cancers: Why everyone should listen to Michael Douglas and Jim Kelly

By Steve Dorfman – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer


Most of us go to the dentist to keep our pearly whites healthy and gleaming.

But, as we’ve been reminded from two recent high-profile cancer cases — those of actor Michael Douglas and Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly — our mouths are vulnerable to more than cavities.

The good news, though, says West Palm Beach dentist Dr. Mihran Asinmaz: “Many cancers and pre-cancers of the oral cavity — including the lips, cheeks, teeth, jaw and oropharynx (throat) — can be found early, during routine screening exams by a dentist.”

Learning from Michael Douglas

Douglas, 67, of course, made worldwide headlines last month when he was quoted in the British newspaper The Guardian as saying the throat (or “oropharyngeal”) cancer he successfully battled in 2010-11 was caused by a certain form of the sexually transmitted virus human papillomavirus (HPV).

While many in the non-medical community were made uncomfortable by the discussion of HPV transmitted via oral sex causing oral cancer, Douglas’s revelation did engage the public in an effective and important way.

Consider: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the 40 varieties of HPV make it the most widespread sexually transmitted infection. In fact, reports the CDC’s website: “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime.”

And now cases similar to Douglas’ are being seen far more frequently.

Dr. Eric Genden, professor and chair of otolaryngology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, recently told CBS News, “There’s an epidemic of HPV-related throat cancers.”

Indeed, according to the National Cancer Institute, there are now more than 13,000 new HPV-related oral cancer cases diagnosed annually in the U.S. — with some 80 percent being men.

What’s more, that makes male HPV-related oral cancer more commonplace than HPV-related cervical cancer is now in women.

Jupiter prosthodontist Dr. Omar Abdo says he had a number of patients present with HPV-related oral cancer — including an 80-year-old woman whose complaints about throat and mouth discomfort were dismissed by both her primary physician and an ear, nose and throat specialist.

The octogenarian credits Abdo’s astute diagnosis with saving her life.

Kelly’s condition

As for Jim Kelly, 53, who starred at the University of Miami in the early 1980s and led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls (all defeats) in the early 1990s, he revealed in early June that he’d been diagnosed with squamous cell carinoma in his jaw.

This necessitated surgery on June 7 to remove a significant portion of the left side of his jaw. At the end of the month, he announced that his doctors believed all of the cancerous cells had been removed, and no subsequent radiation or chemotherapy would be required.

Kelly can consider himself fortunate that his carcinoma was of the squamous cell variety, and located in the jaw (as opposed to the neck or throat) because, as Dr. Michael Kaplan told ESPN on the day of Kelly’s surgery, it tends not to be a “bad actor” in terms of metastization.

Kelly, of course, will be rechecked by his oncologists for the next several years, but his prognosis is excellent.