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Irving McKenzie, the chief dental officer in the Ministry of Health, is warning that Jamaica faces an increasingly high risk of persons developing oral cancer because of a growing appetite for oral sex.
"Oral sex in today's society is becoming very prevalent," McKenzie told The Gleaner, while adding that from an oral-health perspective it was an unsafe practice.
McKenzie said one of the leading causes of oral cancer in the United States is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Oral cancer, he said, would normally fall in the category of non-communicable diseases, but with the HPV, it is becoming a communicable type disease because it can be contracted by contact such as sexual intercourse.
Oral cancer is also caused by tobacco smoking and alcohol, and according to the American Cancer Society, men face twice the risk of developing oral cancer than women. Men who are over age 50 face the greatest risk.
The 2007-2008 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey states that approximately 65 per cent of the population 15-74 years in Jamaica report that they currently use alcohol while 13.5 per cent use marijuana and 14.5 per cent smoke cigarettes.
However, the high use of alcohol and tobacco is not what's troubling McKenzie. It is projected that by 2020 oral and pharyngeal cancer will become the leading cancer and that HPV will play a great role.
McKenzie said the ministry is currently working on a strategy that will detect oral cancer in its early stage.
"We have two years' survival rate if discovered and the cost is high, because the mouth is connected to a number of important organs," he explained.
"This is not like any other cancer, because when this is discovered, it will take a toll on the individual's social life and that individual can become a social recluse," he further explained.
McKenzie said it is of great importance that oral health be given greater attention in Jamaica.
"A country like Jamaica cannot use a curative model to deal with oral and pharyngeal cancer," he argued.