Oral Cancer Screening
- When cancer is detected and treated early, treatment-related health problems are reduced.
During your dental visit, your dentist can talk to you about your health history and examine your mouth for signs of mouth and/or throat cancer. The screening will consist of a visual inspection of the mouth and palpation of the jaw and neck. Regular visits to your dentist can improve the chances that any suspicious changes in your oral health will be caught early, at a time when cancer can be treated more easily.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is cancer that occurs on the lips (usually the lower lip), inside the mouth, on the back of the throat, the tonsils or salivary glands. It occurs more frequently in men than women, and most likely to strike people over 40. Smoking in combination with heavy alcohol use is a key risk factor.
- If not detected early, oral cancer can require surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. It can also be fatal, with an overall five-year survival rate of approximately 50 percent. Part of the reason for this poor prognosis is a failure to recognize the early symptoms, so detecting oral cancer early is the key to successful treatment.
- A sore on the lips, gums, or inside of your mouth that bleeds easily and doesn't heal
- A lump or thickening in the cheek that you can feel with your tongue
- Loss of feeling or numbness in any part of your mouth
- White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside of mouth
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
- Soreness or unexplained pain in your mouth, or feeling that something is caught in your throat with no known cause
- Swelling of the jaw causing dentures to fit poorly
- Change in voice
What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
You won't always be able to spot the earliest warning signs of oral cancer, which is why regular check-ups with both your dentist and physician are so important. Your dentist is trained to detect early warning signs of oral cancer. However, in addition to check-ups, you should see your dentist if you do notice any of the following:
How can I Prevent Oral Cancer?
Research has identified a number of factors that contribute to the development of mouth and throat cancers. If you don't chew or smoke tobacco — don't start. Tobacco use accounts for 80 to 90 percent of oral cancers. It's best to avoid smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, chewing tobacco or dipping snuff. People who stop using tobacco, even after many years of use, greatly reduce their risk for oral cancer. Chronic and/or heavy use of alcohol also increases your risk of cancer, and alcohol combined with tobacco creates an especially high risk. Smokers and excessive alcohol drinkers older than 50 are the most at risk.
More recently, the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted, has been associated with cancers of the oropharyngeal region that is the part of the throat at the back of the mouth. HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers are related to the increasing incidence of throat cancers in non-smoking adults.