By Dr. Wayne Kye
In life, we have been taught that it is “every man for himself.” Unfortunately, when it comes to taking charge of their health, men are notoriously bad at taking care of themselves. Not only are they less likely to schedule annual appointments, but each year more men than women will be diagnosed with cancer, and more men will die from these diseases. In fact, more than 310,000 men will die from cancer this year; it is a devastating statistic, and one that we need to change.
June is National Men’s Health Month, and it is time we encourage the men in our lives to take steps toward cancer prevention and healthy living; eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and seeing a health care professional for recommended screenings. The good news is more than 50 percent of cancer deaths are preventable with the knowledge we have today. But many cancers do not have symptoms until the later stages, and preventative screenings can catch cancer in the early stages when it is most treatable.
For National Men’s Health Month, I want to highlight the risk of oral cancer in men. As a periodontist and oral healthcare professional, this is an area that is near and dear to my heart. Oral cancer, or cancer of the mouth or throat, is twice as common in men as women. In 2015, it is expected that more than 32,000 men will be diagnosed and 6,010 men will die from it.
Tobacco and alcohol consumption are significant risk factors for oral cancer. Sports cultures often encourage tobacco use by both players and spectators. Though we have made progress in this area and tobacco use is no longer shown or endorsed during televised events, kids are still influenced by the habits of their favorite players. Many players have shared their painful stories of oral cancer, and still others have not lived to tell their stories. It is imperative that we tell the boys and men in our lives that the short-term enjoyment is not worth the long-term suffering.
Certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus), most commonly HPV-16, have been linked to oral cancer and HPV is considered a rising risk factor for oral cancer. HPV DNA (a sign of HPV infection) is now found in about two out of three oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). In recent years, a vaccine has become available for both girls and boys to prevent the contraction of HPV. It is important that boys get this vaccine before they become sexually active, which will later reduce the spread of HPV and the number of associated cancer cases. In some countries, like Australia, they have nearly eliminated the virus with the HPV vaccine.
If there is a man in your life not taking charge of his health, encourage him talk with his doctor about risk factors and recommended screenings. You should get screened for oral cancer at your regular dentist check-up and talk to your dentist about oral self-exams. And everyone—women included—should follow these preventative steps to reduce your risk for oral cancer:
Don’t use tobacco in any form. If you use tobacco, quit.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men.
- Stay out of the sun, especially between 10 am and 4 pm when sunlight is strongest.
- Always use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States and accounts for almost one in four deaths. This National Men’s Health Month, encourage men to take healthy living and cancer prevention steps in their lives. For more information about cancer prevention and early detection, visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s website at www.preventcancer.org.
Dr. Wayne Kye is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) and a member of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation.