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Oral cancer rates rising in young people; HPV virus may be to blame

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You hope for no cavities when you see the dentist, but you could have something far worse.

There are 42,000 cases of mouth cancer in the United States every year, according to Greensboro dentist, Dr. Mark Hyman.

What's more shocking?  Young people are developing it at alarming rates.

“To our horror, what we are finding out is now there is a boom in mouth cancers in teens and 20-somethings and we see that because of HPV infection,” Hyman said.

Thirty years ago, Hyman only saw oral cancer in older patients.  Many of them were smokers and tobacco users.

“We would have never expected to look at teens and 20-somethings for mouth cancer because they didn't fit that demographic.  Now, Gardasil is a vaccination that is suggested for young people from nine to 26. Early on, it was just suggested for women.  But if you think about it, men and women both have susceptibility to contract HPV,” Hyman said.

Hyman does a thorough oral cancer screening on all of his patients.

“It's a little scary, but I'm glad he does it, it's not something that you think about when you go to the dentist that they're going to check you for cancer,” said Haley Calloway of Lexington.

Daniel Massey of Greensboro said, “It’s not surprising I guess, but it’s definitely alarming. You know, you shouldn’t be getting cancer when you are this young.”

Massey and Calloway are in their early 20s and in perfect health.

Hyman still speaks with them, and other young patients, about talking to their primary care physician about the Gardasil vaccine.

Dr. Hyman said, “And if people because of social mores are hesitant to get the vaccination, it doesn't imply that folks are sexually active, it doesn't imply that they are having multiple partners. It's just saying 80 to 90 percent of America is going to be exposed to some form of HPV. So why not protect yourself?”

The Gardasil vaccine protects against HPV type 16 which causes mouth cancers.

According to Dr. Hyman, “This is how you protect yourself in 2015.  This is how you protect your family from a terrible cancer that is horribly disfiguring.”