Oral Cancer Screening
Although oral cancer may not get as much attention as some more widely-known types of cancer, that doesn't mean it's any less deadly. In fact, it is estimated that in the United States, oral cancer is responsible for killing one person every hour, every day. While it accounts for a relatively small percentage of all cancers, oral cancer is dangerous because it isn't usually detected until it has reached an advanced stage.
Here are some statistics regarding oral cancer:
- Oral cancer kills one American every hour
- Approximately 42,000 people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2013
- In 2013, among the 42,000 diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States, 18,000 will not be alive in five years
- Oral cancer’s incidence rate has increased the last five years in a row
- In 2007, oral cancer’s incidence increased by 11%
- The mortality rate for oral cancer has not changed significantly in three decades
- Oral cancer’s high mortality rate is due to late-stage discovery (Stage III and IV)
- The mortality rate for oral cancer is higher than the rates for cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer and skin cancer.
Oral cancer screening is a simple test that could give you an early warning about whether you're likely to have this disease, would you take it? The good news is — there is! Since early detection has been shown to increase the survival rate of oral cancer to 80% or better, this test can truly save lives. And best of all, having an oral cancer screening is part of something you should be doing anyway: getting regular dental checkups.
An oral cancer examination is fast and painless. Its objective is to identify small changes in the lining tissues of the mouth, lips and tongue that may signify the early stages of this type of cancer. The screening is primarily a visual and tactile (touch) examination. If any abnormalities are noted, a small tissue sample can be retrieved for further testing in a laboratory.
Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, cheeks, throat (pharynx), sinuses, and hard and soft palate. While oral cancer can usually be successfully treated when detected early, most cases of oral cancer are not detected until they have progressed into a more serious, advanced stage that is much more difficult to treat. In fact, oral cancer may be life threatening. At our office, we are dedicated to doing all we can to detect and treat oral cancers and other abnormalities at the earliest possible stage. During your routine dental cleanings and exams at our office, our dentist and team will perform an oral cancer screening to check for the signs of oral cancer.
Who's At Risk for Developing Oral Cancer?
The answer might surprise you. Oral cancer used to be thought of as an older person's disease, and it still mostly affects those over 40. But today, younger people form the fastest-growing segment among oral cancer patients. This is primarily due to the spread of the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16).
Of course, the other major risk factors still apply: If you're middle aged or older, a moderate to heavy drinker or a long-time tobacco user, you have a greater chance of developing oral cancer. Chronic exposure to the sun, long known to cause skin cancer, is also associated with cancers of the lips. Genetic factors are thought to have a major impact on who gets the disease as well.
Detecting Oral Cancer
A thorough screening for oral cancer is part of your routine dental checkup — another reason why you should be examined regularly. The screening includes a visual assessment of your lips, tongue, and the inside of your mouth, including a check for red or white patches or unusual sores. You may be palpated (pressed with fingers) to detect the presence of lumps and swellings, and your tongue may be gently pulled aside for an even better view. A special light, dye, or other procedure may also be used to help check any suspect areas. If anything appears to be out of the ordinary, a biopsy can be easily performed.
If you notice abnormal sores or color changes in the tissue of your mouth, lips and tongue, they may be a symptom of oral cancer — most, however, are completely benign. But sores or other unusual changes that haven't gone away by themselves after 2-3 weeks should be examined. Remember, the only way to accurately diagnose oral cancer is through a laboratory report. Early diagnosis, aided by thorough screenings at your regular dental checkups, is one of the best defenses against oral cancer.
What’s involved in an oral cancer screening?
An oral cancer screening is usually carried out during your bi-annual visit. The screening will include searching for any unusual bumps on your inner cheek, tongue, or gums. Your dentist will also look for and ask about any soreness within your mouth. Your dentist will also check for any signs of oral cancer in your head and face. If any signs are found, they will perform what is known as an oral brush biopsy. This painless procedure can determine if further tests are needed.
What are some common symptoms of oral cancer?
- A sore in the mouth that does not heal (most common symptom)
- Pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away (also very common)
- A lump or thickening in the cheek
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat that doesn’t go away
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Trouble moving the jaw or tongue
- Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- Loosening of the teeth or pain around the teeth or jaw
- Voice changes
- Voice changes
- Weight loss
- Constant bad breath
Why are oral cancer screenings important?
Simply put, it is important to have an oral cancer screening because it has been proven that more people die from oral cancer each year than do from some of the more commonly known cancers in the world. There is no good reason to avoid getting screened for this disease, as the procedure is painless and could potentially save your life. No one ever thinks cancer will happen to them, which is why it is important to be screened as soon as possible. Early treatment is key to having a positive outcome.
Please call 617-244-5020 today to schedule your consultation with our family dentist. We do oral cancer screening for communities like Newton, Auburndale, Nonantum, Newtonville, Newton Corner, Newton Upper Falls, Newton Lower Falls, Newton Centre, Newton Highlands, Oak Hill, Waban, Waltham, Wellesley, West Newton and Weston.
Oral cancer screenings should be conducted annually in order to ensure that this life-threatening cancer is detected early so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. Our family dentist has performed a number of oral cancer screenings throughout their years of dental practice and can help to diagnose patients who have this potentially fatal disease in time to make a difference. We are committed to helping you stay in good health.