According to research conducted by the American Cancer Society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year. More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient. The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.
Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable. This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important. The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. This type of oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.
Oral cancer commonly occurs in the following locations:
Lips, Mouth, Tongue, Salivary Glands, Throat, Gums and Face
Reasons for oral cancer examinations
It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.
When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective. Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible. During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be looking at the oral regions carefully for signs of changes.
The following findings should be investigated by your dentist or healthcare professional:
Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily could be signs of cancerous changes.
Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised area that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or could become cancerous if treatment is not sought.
Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal problems.
During the course of a regular check up, the dentist will thoroughly inspect the soft tissue of the mouth and take serious note of any changes. If there are cell changes present, the dentist will take a biopsy of the affected area and send it away to be analyzed by laboratory specialists. When final results are obtained, the dentist can decide on the best course of treatment.
Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer is a general term used when referring to any type of cancer affecting the tongue, jaw, and lower cheek area. Since it is impossible for the dentist to decisively diagnose a pathological disease without taking a biopsy sample of the affected area, seeking immediate treatment when changes are first noticed might be a life and death decision.
An oral cancer screening is usually performed during a comprehensive or check-up exam. Screening is painless and only takes a few minutes. The dentist or hygienist will do a clinical examinatin to assess the soft tissues for cell changes that might be indicative of oral cancer. If such cell changes are present, a small biopsy will be taken and sent to a laboratory for review. If the biopsy indicates that oral cancer is present, an excision (removal) will generally be performed.
If you are experiencing any pain or symptoms that cause you concern, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment.
If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please ask your dentist or dental hygienist.