Spring means different things to different people—but to baseball fans, it means just one thing: the start of another thrilling season. All 30 Major League Baseball teams begin play this month, delighting fans from Toronto to Texas and everywhere in between.
The boys of spring carry on an age-old tradition—yet baseball is also changing with the times. Cigarette smoking has been banned at most ballparks for years; smokeless tobacco is next. About half of the MLB venues now prohibit tobacco of any kind, including “snuff” and “dip.” What’s more, a recent contract agreement bars new Major League players from using smokeless tobacco anywhere.
Why all the fuss? Because tobacco isn’t safe to use in any form. People who use smokeless tobacco get just as much highly addictive nicotine as cigarette smokers. Plus, they get a mouthful of chemicals that are known to cause cancer. This puts them at higher risk for oral cancer, cancer of the esophagus, pancreatic cancer and other diseases.
A number of renowned ballplayers like Babe Ruth, Curt Flood and Bill Tuttle died of oral cancer. The death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwinn in 2014 focused attention on tobacco use in baseball, and helped lead to the ban. Gwynn was convinced that his addiction to smokeless tobacco led to his getting oral cancer.
Yet tobacco isn’t the only cause of oral cancer. In fact, the disease is becoming more common in young people who do not smoke. That’s one more reason why it’s so important for people of all ages to keep to a regular schedule of routine dental exams. These visits offer a great opportunity to detect oral cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
So as you watch your favorite team, take a tip from the professional athletes’ playbook. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. If you do, now is a good time to quit. For help and support, call an expert at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.
If you have any questions about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.