Michael Douglas Survives Oral Cancer, Credits Early Detection

Michael Douglas, whose brilliant smile as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (for which he won an Academy Award as Best Actor) won another, far more important prize—his life.  Douglas had oral cancer, which was not detected until it was at Stage IV. Through aggressive treatment, the actor is in remission and speaking up for the Oral Cancer Foundation.

“It’s not a topic you want to think about, but there is an easy way to detect oral cancer early,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix dental office.  “A dentist will do oral cancer screenings as part of your regular dental care. Because we are trained to look for early symptoms, and have a better view into the mouth and throat than a patient, we can many times spot cancer before it progresses,” she explained.

Oral Health The Oral Cancer Foundations reports that “close to 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. Of those 40,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years. (Approximately 57%) This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades.”

While Douglas and his doctors believe that his cancer was caused by years of smoking and alcohol use, the most common cause today is no longer smoking. It’s the HPV-16 virus, or Human Papilloma Virus, most often transmitted through sexual contact.

“The virus makes early detection harder,” says Dr. Ford. “And early detection is the key to successful treatment. That’s why having a dentist do a screening is so important—we know what questions to ask, and will examine not only your tongue and gums, but your throat and neck as well. And if we have any doubts, we’ll recommend a specialist for a definite diagnosis,” she says.

Dentists are certainly responsible for bright smiles and white teeth, but they are there for another great reason—to help you celebrate many more birthdays with that white smile.

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