Dentist - Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, PS

Strawberries May Be the Newest Weapon Against Oral Cancer

Researchers at the Ohio State University have discovered a potential weapon against oral cancer: strawberries. A study at the school’s Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute show that the phytochemicals of the fruit may help to prevent oral and esophageal cancers. 

The project tested the enzymes of the saliva of both smokers and non-smoking study participants on the phytochemicals of strawberries. Phytochemicals are compounds found in plants. Many phytochemicals have a positive health effect on the body. The study also examined participant DNA that is affected by smoking and oral cancer risk.

Participants in the study were given strawberry candy developed by OSU that contained two and a half cups of the fruit in each piece. The candy delivered a large number of phytochemicals as well as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give fruits and vegetables a red or purple color.

The candy was given to both smokers and nonsmokers in the group. Half of the study group received the confection four times per day, while the other half of the group received a placebo four times a day. Both groups were instructed to follow a diet that did not feature other red or purple fruits and vegetables. The study lasted for seven days.

At the end of the study, researchers tested the saliva and mouth tissue samples from all participants and measured the levels of enzymes that break down strawberry phytochemicals. They also tested genes knowns to be associated with oral cancer. Findings showed smokers and nonsmokers had vast differences in the enzyme activity of their saliva and strawberry metabolites. Metabolites are enzymes necessary for the breakdown of food.

While the connection between smoking, strawberry consumption and oral cancer is still under investigation, researchers are confident that there may be opportunities for oral cancer prevent using food-based treatments.

The American Cancer Society estimates that over 49,000 people will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. They also estimate that 9,700 individuals will die this year because of their oral cancer diagnosis this year. Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than women. Most individuals diagnosed with oral cancer are in their mid-life, between 45 and 65.

Causes of oral cancer include smoking and the use of tobacco, including chewing tobacco and snuff, increased use of alcohol, and in the case of lip cancer, prolonged exposure to the sun.

In recent years, there has also been an increase in oral and oropharyngeal cancer diagnosis in patients who have been diagnosed with human papillomavirus, or HPV. If oral cancer is diagnosed early, a patient’s rate of survival increases. However, in many cases, oral cancer is not diagnosed until Stage 3 or Stage 4.

"Many cases of oral cancer go undiagnosed because the patient has no symptoms. Some symptoms, like sores or bumps, resemble benign conditions like canker sores," Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S., P.S., said.

Norman encourages her Everett, Washington, patients to opt in for oral cancer screenings during their dental checkups

"In many cases, oral cancer cannot be seen with the naked eye, so it is important to get both a visual and physical exam," Norman said.

When oral cancer reaches Stage 3 or Stage 4, it has often spread to other nearby parts of the body like the lymph nodes. The survival rate when it reaches this stage is lower than when the condition is caught early. The most common signs of oral cancer include lesions, sores and bumps that do not go away. Other loose teeth and poorly fitting dentures, jaw or mouth soreness, tongue pain and difficulty swallowing.

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