Health Team

Oral cancer on the rise in young women

Posted March 30, 2011

Research shows that cases of oral cancer are on the rise for young women, even among those without the risk factors of tobacco and alcohol use, according to a study by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill oncologist.

Ashley Scott, 28, of Raleigh, doesn't smoke or abuse alcohol. She is a young, urban professional who leads a healthy lifestyle.

A year ago, oral cancer was the last thing on her mind.

"It was caught because I had a real angry ulcer on my tongue," Scott said. "My surgeon, she said, even if you had smoked two packs a day your entire life, this still should not be happening to you."

Scott had part of the side of her tongue and some lymph nodes removed, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She is in remission, but has to undergo physical therapy to get sensation back in her mouth and neck.

Research suggests she's not alone.

Dr. Bhisham Chera, a radiation oncologist at UNC, has been studying the growing trend of young women with oral cancer. He said he first noticed it in his own practice, but his observation was confirmed when he reviewed incidence rates in the U.S. from 1975 to 2007.

oral cancer Oral cancer on the rise in young women

"As we expected, the number of cases of oral cavity cancer was decreasing," Chera said, but the incidence of squamous cell cancer on the tongue was up among young, white females and had increased rapidly over the past decade.

Incidence of oral cavity cancer is still quite low, Chera said; there were just 92 cases among young white women from 2001 to 2007.

Tobacco and alcohol use have traditionally been the leading risk factors for cancer in the oral cavity, though this does not hold true in Chera's study.

Early detection is important. Doctors recommend seeing a dentist or personal physician regularly and getting checked out by an ear, nose and throat specialist as soon as possible if a mouth sore isn't healing.


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  • MomOfTwins Apr 4, 2011

    notmyproblem- I wouldn't be surprised if we find out you're right. Too bad it will take 5-20 years and lots more illness...

  • batcave Mar 31, 2011

    Chera also said the cancer-causing human papillomavirus was unlikely to be behind the increase. He and his colleagues studied whether their young, white female patients with tongue cancer tested positive for the virus, which can cause tongue and tonsil cancer. But their preliminary research found no association, Chera said.

    Why don't you read the abstract before calling it incomplete, this is about an increase in a SPECIFIC pop with no known risk factors, including HPV, the HPV is old news.The study was published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. I myself have worked in cancer research---read the whole article.

  • darkhorse94 Mar 31, 2011

    The British Medical Journal(unlike this incomplete UNC study) shows a recent surge in the disease—oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma—that may be due to the spread of the human papillomavirus (HPV) through oral sex. The UNC study and report deliberately excludes this information. Irresponsible sexual activity has once again contributed to the degradation of our society yet little information is given as to the true cause. The UK has seen a 51% increase in oral cancer in men. So with the info above we can reasonable conclude the high risk group/groups. Education is not the key as the liberals keep telling us. Self control, and responsible behavior which starts at home is the only solution.

  • Frank Downtown Mar 31, 2011

    HPV is a major cause and it can be transmitted during phalacio (aka: bj)!

  • carrboroyouth Mar 31, 2011

    allie19 - I understand that both can get the vaccine but the ads seem to push only girls (or the parents of girls) to take interest in getting vaccinated.

    That is great that health insurance is covering it for both; I am very glad to hear that. I hope you were implying that boys are getting it as well and that is also great news!

  • batcave Mar 31, 2011

    I'm surprised this doctor seems so clueless.

    This research included testing for HPV , which was not a player in these cases. FYI

  • sarahsoandso Mar 31, 2011

    Three words: Genetically Modified Organisms.

  • notmyproblem Mar 31, 2011

    I believe what doctors are going to discover is the cause for the increase in oral cancer is the use of whitening products. People are using the strips, whitening toothpaste, and whitening rinses...all chemicals!

  • allie19 Mar 31, 2011

    carrboroyouth- both girls and guys can and already do get the vaccine. i think united healthcare was the only one not covering it for guys.They may cover it now though. of course medicaid covers both, they cover anything and everything that us with insurance don't get covered. -PedsRN

  • The Fox Mar 30, 2011

    That is correct Timbo and no thanks to you Bill Clinton.