Oral Cancer ScreeningBarotz Dental | December 18, 2017
Cancer is undoubtedly one of the most feared words in the western world. The term is used to describe a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrollable growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body. Failure to manage and control the spread of these cells almost certainly results in premature death.
Cancer can appear in any part of the body and is believed to be caused by external factors, such as tobacco, poor diet, substance abuse and inherited genetic mutations, and some groups of individuals are at greater risk of developing some varieties of cancer over others.
About oral cancer
Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers known as head and neck cancers, and make up approximately 85% of that group (brain cancer is a cancer category in its own right and is not included in head and neck cancers). Around 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2017, and approximately 57% of these individuals will survive past the 5-year mark.
Thankfully, oral cancer screening is now widely available. Provided by dentists and doctors, it can detect early signs of cancer, enabling patients to seek prompt treatment and obtain the best possible chance of a full recovery.
Oral cancer can form in a range of different parts of the mouth and throat including the:
- middle part of the throat behind the mouth
- back third of the tongue
- soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth)
- side and back walls of the throat
Most oral cavity and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers start in squamous cells, which are the thin, flat cells that line the lips, oral cavity and oropharynx. This is referred to as squamous cell carcinoma.
Symptoms of oral cancer
There are a range of different symptoms that could indicate the presence of oral cancer. These include:
- An ulcer in your mouth that refuses to heal. Approximately 80% of people with mouth cancer state that they have experienced this symptom.
- Abnormal red or white patches in the mouth. These can be indicative of pre-cancerous cell changes.
- Difficulty swallowing
- Speech problems
- Pain in the mouth that doesn’t improve.
- Bad breath
- A lump in your lip, mouth or neck
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unusual bleeding or numbness in your mouth
- Difficulty moving your jaw
- Loose teeth for no apparent reason
While these symptoms may not necessarily mean that cancer has developed, it is important to visit our dentist for a pre-cancer screening appointment.
What happens during oral cancer screening?
Oral cancer screening is performed with the purpose of identifying cancer or precancerous cells early, when there is a greater chance that it can be cured. Most dentists incorporate oral cancer screening examinations into your routine dental visits. This means that you will be checked approximately every six to twelve months for pre-cancerous cells.
During an oral cancer screening examination, our dentist will thoroughly examine the inside of your mouth, checking for discoloration, lumps or sores. If you wear a removable device such as dentures, you will be asked to take this out so that the soft tissue beneath can be properly examined.
Some dentists will perform additional tests as part of their standard oral cancer screening program. This could include asking you to rinse your mouth with a colored dye, or shining a light into your mouth during the examination. In both of these tests, it is believed that cancerous cells appear a different color, making them easier to identify.
If you have any concerns about oral cancers, it is advisable to contact and make an appointment with our dentist as soon as possible.