Dr. Ellen Daley, associate dean for research and practice at the University of South Florida College of Public of Health recently spoke to several hundred dentists and dental hygienists at the American Dental Association meeting in Atlanta about the connection between human papillomavirus (HPV) and oropharyngeal cancers.
Rates of HPV-related oral cancers are rising at alarming rates, making them the most recent group of cancers that have been liked to this very common virus, according to Dr. Daley.
Dr. Daley, along with a team of faculty and students, has been working on approaches to help health care providers address the prevention of HPV-related cancers with their patients through the use of public health literacy.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer, 91 percent of anal cancers and approximately 72 percent of male and 63 percent of female oropharyngeal cancers.
There are over 11,000 oropharyngeal cancer cases attributable to HPV each year in the U.S. and the number of cases is increasing significantly, according to Dr. Daley.
According to Dr. Daley, who also serves as a professor in the department of community and family health, dental providers may be key agents to the prevention of HPV and oropharyngeal cancers since these providers see a large number of patients.
Dr. Daley said that not only can dental providers screen for oropharyngeal cancer, but they could also recommend the HPV vaccine.
“Dentists have suggested that they are willing to discuss HPV and oropharyngeal cancer with patients, but that they may not have appropriate levels of HPV-related knowledge and health literacy to respond to patients’ concerns or make prevention recommendations,” she said.
As part of an R21 grant funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research titled “Exploring Determinants to HPV-Related Oral Health Literacy among Dental Providers,” Dr. Daley, the principal investigator, and co-investigators assessed HPV-related knowledge and health literacy among dental providers and dental hygienists by conducting surveys and focus groups at various national conferences. She shared many of these findings at the recent ADA conference.
The study involved the research team using a health literacy framework to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research to assess and analyze how dental providers access, understand, appraise and apply health information.
“Health literacy is a framework that can be useful to understand how dental care providers can serve as agents and recipients of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer prevention information,” Dr. Daley said.
Co-investigators include Drs. Cheryl Vamos, Rita DeBate, John Petrila, and Frank Catalanotto. Collaborators working on this project include Drs. Erika Thompson, Nolan Kline, Laura Merrell and Alicia Best. Doctoral students receiving training and mentorship include Ms. Stacey Griner and Ms. Coralia Vázquez-Otero, who serve as study coordinators and research assistants.
The study also included an expert panel that advised the team: Drs. Kelli McCormack Brown, Anil Chaturvedi, Alice Horowitz and Anna Giuliano.
Dr. Daley and her team have several recent publications in peer-reviewed journals regarding health literacy and HPV prevention:
These findings are part of ongoing research that have been previously presented at the American Public Health Association Conference and American Dental Education Association Conference.
The team concludes that dental providers may benefit from additional education and training on HPV prevention, as well as enhancing communication skills with patients to improve HPV-related cancer prevention education.
According to their findings, addressing dentists’ HPV-related health literacy has the potential to improve dentists’ HPV-related prevention practices, including expanding patient education and increasing HPV vaccination knowledge, which ultimately, contributes to the reduction of oropharyngeal cancers.