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How This 1 Bad Habit in the Bathroom Can Cause Throat Cancer

By on August 23, 2013
While most people associate gum disease with a less pearly smile, researchers now say there’s a new reason to worry–it could increase your risk of throat cancer.

According to the study, which was published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, gum disease could open potential pathways that increase the risk of a oral human papillomarvirus infection, or HPV. When this occurs–which it does in 56 percent of cases of people with poor oral health–it could lead to throat cancer.

That’s definitely not something to smile about.

“This is just another really good reason to take good care of your teeth and your mouth,” says Christine Markham, an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral science at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. “Our findings show that even when you control for known risk factors for oral HPV infections such as smoking and oral sex behaviors, poor oral health is an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection.”

And if you don’t think your risk isn’t high, think again: Recent research says that HPV may be responsible for up to 80 percent of all throat cancers, making it a serious threat. Yet oral health seems to be an issue most Americans ignore–which might explain why throat cancer is on the rise.

How Gum Disease Leads to Cancer

While Markham says that further research is needed to understand the link between poor oral hygiene and throat cancer, she believes problems caused by poor oral health, such as open sores in the mouth or throat, can create a pathway for HPV to enter the system–and therefore raising the risk of throat cancer.

Those who practice good oral hygiene habits, however, don’t face this risk because they’re unlikely to have open sores or inflamed gums, preventing HPV from infecting a vulnerable person. What’s worse is that HPV often presents no symptoms, so it often goes undetected for months or years–until it starts developing into throat cancer. When that occurs, oftentimes it’s too late to reverse the damage.

“Throat cancer affects a part of your body that is vital to everyday activities, such as breathing, eating and talking,” says the Mayo Clinic. “In addition to worrying about how these basic activities may be affected, you may also be concerned about your treatments and chances for survival.”

But is there any way to avoid it? To keep your risk low, researchers say prevention is your best cure, in the form of a new vaccine made by Gardasil. While brushing your teeth and flossing everyday is another way to curtail your risk, getting this vaccine before your 20s could reduce your HPV risk by up to 93 percent–and its ability to reduce your risk of throat cancer is even better.

Otherwise, the Mayo Clinic recommends cutting down on other risk factors that could increase your throat cancer risk, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating a poor quality diet. For instance, research shows that people who eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables are less likely to get throat cancer due to antioxidants–chemicals that prevent free radical damage that can lead to tumor growth.

Readers: Do you know somebody that has received the Gardasil shot?

Sources:
Throat CancerMayoClinic.com
Bad Oral Health Connected to Cancer RiskBusinessWeek.com

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