Oral Cancer Screening Check-up
Prevention and Early Detection
Oral cancer is divided into two categories – those occurring in the oral cavity (lips, the inside of your lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue and the floor and roof of your mouth) and those occurring in the oropharynx (middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue).
Where Can Oral Cancer Appear?
The oral cavity includes your lips, cheek lining, gums, the front part of your tongue, the floor of the mouth beneath the tongue and the hard palate that makes up the roof of your mouth. The throat (pharynx) starts at the soft part of the roof of your mouth and continues back into your throat. It includes the back section of your tongue, as well as the base where the tongue attaches to the floor of your mouth.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
It’s important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms and to see your dentist if they do not disappear after two weeks.
- A sore or irritation that doesn't go away
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
Some people complain of a sore throat, feeling like something is caught in their throat, numbness, hoarseness or a change in voice. If you have any of these symptoms, let your dentist know, especially if you’ve had them for two weeks or more.
What Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
Research has identified a number of factors that increase the risk of developing oral cancers. Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer than women. Smokers and excessive alcohol drinkers older than 50 are the most at risk.
Whether you smoke it or chew it, tobacco use increases your risk dramatically. Smoking can cause oral cancer, as well as cancer in other parts of the body. Pipe smokers are also at a higher risk of developing cancer in their lips. Smokeless tobacco, like chew, can lead to many issues in your mouth, the most serious being cancer of the cheeks, gums, and lips.
According to the American Cancer Society, 7 of 10 oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is an average of two drinks a day or more for men and an average of more than one drink a day for women. If you are a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker, your chances of developing oral cancer increase significantly.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted has also been associated with throat cancers at the back of the mouth. Regular dental checkups that include an examination of the entire head and neck can be vital in detecting cancer early. Most people who are diagnosed with oral cancer are 55 or older, according to the American Cancer Society. HPV- related oral cancers, however, are often diagnosed in people who are younger.
How Can My Dentist Help Detect Oral Cancer Early?
During your regular exam, your dentist will ask you about changes in your medical history and whether you’ve been having any new or unusual symptoms.
Then, your dentist will check your oral cavity. This includes your lips, cheek lining, gums, the front part of your tongue, the floor of your mouth and the roof of your mouth. Your dentist will also examine your throat (pharynx) at the soft part at the roof of your mouth, including your tonsils, the back section of your tongue and where your tongue attaches to the bottom of your mouth. The dentist will then feel your jaw and neck for any lumps or abnormalities.
What Happens If My Dentist Finds Something Suspicious?
Stay calm. Your dentist won’t be able to tell right away if what he or she is looking at is cancerous, so he or she may refer you for testing. Your dentist might also reexamine you a week or two later to see if questionable spots are healing on their own before recommending an additional follow-up. Together, you and your dentist can create the best strategy for diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
What Can I Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
The most important thing is to be aware of your risk factors. Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer as they get older. If you smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or have a poor diet, changing these habits can decrease the chances of developing oral cancer. If you have had oral cancer before, you may be more likely to develop it again so keep up those regular visits.
If you need a regular check-up including oral cancer screening, call our office at (305)857-0990 for a consultation with our doctors. Visit our website at www.sharpdentistry.com for more information.