Oral Cancer Screening
Oral cancer is a disease not frequently discussed. There are few, if any, advertising campaigns, walks, or fundraisers supporting its treatment. Still, oral cancer claims one life every day in the United States. The reason for the high mortality rate is that most people do not seek medical help until the cancer has advanced. As with all forms of cancer, early detection and treatment are critical to the ability to be cured. Therefore, the sooner you know that you are at risk for cancer or are developing signs of it, the better your chances are of beating it.
Is it common to have an oral cancer screening?
Unfortunately, no. Most people never have an oral cancer screening, and this is why the cancer is not detected at an early stage. It is a service that we routinely provide during your check-up visits and if you have never been screened before, we suggest you come visit us right away for it.
What does an oral cancer screening entail?
Typically, a screening involves looking for visible symptoms like red and white bumps, hard lumps, rough patches, or changes in the position of your teeth. However, we will also feel your cheeks and the inside of your mouth to identify whether or not you have any strange or hard lumps within this tissue. Remember, oral cancer can impact all areas of the mouth, so the examination must be thorough. We guarantee that the test is gentle and that you should feel comfortable during it. If we see something suspicious, we may refer you to an oral surgeon for a biopsy to determine if what we see is pathology or just a form of normal for you.
Who is susceptible to getting oral cancer?
The common misconception is that only older men get oral cancer. It used to be that men got oral cancer at a 10:1 ratio to women. Over time, the statistics have changed, most likely because the habits of men and women are now more similar. With more women drinking alcohol and smoking, the published ratios are now 2:1. Recently, medical research has proven that some strains of the HPV virus also cause oral cancer. This has changed the way we look at this cancer and who we need to screen for it. The HPV virus can be contracted as early as the teenage years, meaning that both men and women, seniors and teens, could come down with this terrible disease. We recommend that all adults be screened for oral cancer. However, if you smoke, drink alcohol, or know you have the HPV virus, you should be particularly diligent about doing so.
Do you treat oral cancer?
No, we do not treat oral cancer. We help to catch it. When it comes to cancer, early detection is of critical importance. It can literally save your life. Since we are the most familiar with how your mouth looks normally, we are the best prepared to identify any abnormalities. If we see anything that looks like pre-cancer or cancer, we will may refer you to an oral surgeon for a biopsy. This is where a portion of the tissue is taken from your mouth for further testing. In some cases, we may refer you directly to an oncologist in the area so they can perform further tests and then discuss treatment options with you.
When to call us:
You can be the first line of defense when it comes to catching oral cancer. We recommends that you spend a few seconds examining your mouth after brushing your teeth. All you need to do is run your tongue along your cheeks, gums, and the roof of your mouth. If you notice any rough patches, lumps or bumps, make note of it. Do the same thing a few days later. If what you felt was the result of being sick or eating food that was too abrasive, it should go away after a few days. When it doesn’t, you need to call our office for an oral cancer screening and examination. The other thing to watch for is teeth that move for no particular reason. If they are pushed out of place, something must have been pushing them. Occasionally, that something is cancer.
How can I prevent oral cancer?
The most important thing you can do for decreasing your risk is to stop chewing smokeless tobacco products. This is the biggest historical risk for developing oral cancer. While it is better for your lungs than smoking cigarettes, it can increase your risk for oral cancer by 60 times! You should also stop smoking all tobacco products and limit how much alcohol you drink. It does not appear that alcohol in limited quantities is dangerous, but if you drink regularly or binge drink, you are at a greater risk. You also need to limit your sun exposure and prevent sunburns whenever possible. As for the HPV virus, you should speak with your general physician to find out if you are a candidate for the vaccine. You may also want to be tested to find out if you already have the virus.