Author: Kristin Jenkins
Most 8-year-olds with a wiggly tooth expect the Tooth Fairy to tuck some money under their pillow. In the case of one little Canadian boy, his wiggly tooth got him an incisional biopsy, a diagnosis of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), a partial maxillectomy, and a defect that was closed with local advancement flaps.
“This was the most unusual case we’ve seen,” said Marco A. Magalhaes, DDS, PhD, assistant professor of oral pathology and oral medicine in the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.
“OSCC predominantly affects patients 40 years of age and older,” write Magalhaes and colleagues in a case study report published in November 2016 in Oral Surgery Oral Medicine Oral Pathology Oral Radiology. “It is extremely rare in patients younger than 20 years of age.”
The clinical, radiographic, and histologic findings in this young patient were distinctive. Although the diagnosis and treatment were challenging, the clinical course was favorable at follow-up, the authors said. This case illustrates the fact that even pediatric patients can be at risk for OSCC. Magalhaes said that he and other dentists are concerned about the rising number of OSCC cases in patients who are in their 20s and 30s. These patients have no known risk factors and are often without symptoms. Many are diagnosed with high-grade oral epithelial dysplasia (OED) that rapidly progresses to cancer, Magalhaes told Medscape Medical News.
“When you look at the distribution of cases of oral dysplasia or carcinoma, you see that they tend to occur in older males in their 50s with a history of smoking and a low risk of [malignant] transformation,” he explained.
“What we are seeing in practice, however, is a lot of dysplasia in younger individuals without risk factors. These cases are the most concerning,” he commented.
At the time of presentation, patients may say, “I’m not sure why I’m here, but I saw a whitish patch in my mouth,’ ” said Magalhaes.
Others may be asymptomatic and have “absolutely no concerns,” he pointed out. “Unfortunately, this story is becoming more common.”
Nonhealing Sore in Mouth
Oral cancer usually presents as a nonhealing sore that is often painful. OED can be more difficult to diagnose because it manifests as a faint whitish or red patch anywhere in the oral cavity.
The gums, tongue, soft palate, and the inside of the cheeks can be affected. Most commonly, the floor of the mouth is affected.
Currently, Magalhaes and colleagues are conducting a review of more than 3000 cases of dysplasia in Ontario to determine group distribution, pattern, and, potentially, risk factors.
Although oral cancer has multiple causal factors, Magalhaes noted that smoking is “by far” the most significant and well-recognized risk factor. Heavy alcohol consumption is also a well-known risk factor. Human papillomavirus accounts for 5% to 6% of oral cancers, he noted.
A regular dental checkup is important, and early detection is critical for survival, Magalhaes emphasized.
For high-grade OED, the risk for progression to frank carcinoma is 18% to 30%, he noted. For moderate-grade OED, the risk is 10% to 15%, and for low-grade oral dysplasia, it is 1% to 4%.
“Physicians should reinforce to their patients the importance of dental checkups at least twice a year,” Magalhaes said. “This alone would increase the chances of early lesion detection.”
Review of Biopsy Specimens
A recent review of 63,483 biopsy specimens submitted by dentists to the Toronto Oral Pathology Service (TOPS) primarily from 2005 through 2015 bears this out. The review, led by Magalhaes, was published online April 25 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
TOPS is operated by the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto and is one of the largest oral pathology services in Canada, noted Magalhaes, who works there.
The results show that generally, the incidence of OED (2679 cases) and OSCC (828 cases) in Ontario remained stable from 2005 to 2015. It also showed that when it comes to early detection of oral lesions, dentists have seriously stepped up their game. During the 10-year period, detection of OED by dentists increased 3.8-fold. The number of OSCC cases they detected doubled. OSCC accounted for about 10% of all oral cancers in the province in 2015.
“These biopsy specimens were submitted mostly by specialists in oral and maxillofacial surgery, periodontics, endodontics, and oral and maxillofacial pathology and oral medicine,” the authors write.
“However,” they continue, “informal discussion with clinicians who submitted the biopsy specimens has indicated that the initial detection of the mucosal abnormality was often accomplished by the general practice dentist, dental hygienist, or both, who referred the patient to specialists for evaluation, biopsy, and case management.”
The study also shows that potentially malignant lesions made up 4.68% of all cases and that OED accounted for 90%. An increased awareness of early lesions with malignant potential can result in early diagnosis and decreased morbidity and mortality from OSCC, the researchers say.
Both dentists and patients appear to be maintaining a high index of suspicion, according to Magalhaes.
“Dentists are increasingly aware of the presence of these early lesions and are either biopsying them themselves or sending them for biopsy,” he explained. “We’ve also noticed that patients are more aware of mouth changes and are asking dentists about lesions that they have identified.”
During a routine dental checkup, an examination for early signs of oral cancer is performed. This includes inspection of the lymph glands in the neck and a check of all mucosal surfaces in the oral cavity for signs of ulcers or red or white patches.
The severity of OED determines treatment, noted Magalhaes. In cases of low-grade OED, the lesion is monitored every 6 months, and a repeat biopsy is performed if warranted. A high-grade OED that is accessible and relatively well contained is treated with complete surgical excision. This is followed by monitoring two or three times a year. When the lesion is diffuse, affects 60% of the oral cavity, or extends into areas that are difficult to access without significant morbidity, the patient is closely monitored with examinations four times a year, he said.
J Am Dent Assoc. Published online April 25, 2019. Abstract
Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol. 2016 Nov;122:e179-e185. Full text