There isn’t a routine oral cancer screening program or test universally performed. However, it’s important to detect this disease as early as possible for the best possible outcome for patients. These types of cancers can often be found very early and can then be treated as needed. Many doctors and dentists recommend to their patients that they should look in the mirror at their mouth to see whether anything has changed.
Some cases of oral cancer are found by the patients themselves. Others get found by a dentist or doctor who takes a look in their mouth to look for anything abnormal. If you are at a higher risk for oral cancer, such as being a smoker or drinking alcohol frequently, it’s especially important for you to examine your mouth because you are at a significantly higher risk for it.
Get Your Dental Checkups
It’s important for many reasons to get your semi-annual dental exam. It’s important to your oral health in a number of ways, and it’s also important for your general health. One of the reasons that you need to have these exams is that the dentist will check over your mouth for any signs of abnormality that could indicate oral cancer.
Sometimes, a dentist or doctor will use dyes or lights to try to find any areas that are abnormal if you are at high risk for oral cancer. If the practitioner sees that an area looks abnormal, they may conduct some tests on it to figure out whether it’s cancer.
The abnormal areas that are found may be tested by staining them with a dye known as toluidine blue. When this dye is spread across an area, the abnormal tissue in that area will become darker blue. Using lights can also be used to find problem areas. Fluorescent lights can also be shined on the area, and the light that gets reflected back from the abnormal tissue will look different from the other areas in the mouth that are normal.
If an area is found that may be cancerous, a small sample of it is taken for a biopsy. Sometimes, the abnormal areas can be tested by scraping off cells from them and sending the samples to a lab. There, they will be tested to find out for sure whether the tissue is cancerous.
The goal with any oral cancer screening is to detect oral cancer as quickly as possible. The practitioner may be able to find precancerous lesions that aren’t cancerous yet, and this can mean getting them removed before oral cancer even begins. You might also have oral cancer that has already begun, and the key to the best outcome is generally to find it early. Oral cancer can often be cured if it’s found early enough.
Cancer screenings are especially important if you have had oral cancer before. If you have had a lot of sun exposure, this can also be a risk factor along with drinking excessively and smoking or using chewing tobacco. The amount of oral cancer diagnoses has been going up, so make sure you don’t skip a dental exam in case you have a problem.
Signs of Oral Cancer
It’s a good idea to know many of the signs and symptoms that this form of cancer can cause. Both you and your dentist should watch out for some of the common signs of oral cancer. There are both symptoms of early oral cancer and late oral cancer.
Some of the early signs include an ulcer that won’t heal, a patch of red or white in your mouth that persists, an area that swells up or keeps getting bigger, changes to the surface of your mouth, one or more teeth that move around with no obvious reason, hoarseness that lasts a long time, and abnormal bleeding in the mouth.
When the cancer has entered into a late stage, it will have very different signs. You may have an area in or on the mouth that has gotten harder than the surrounding tissue. You may have a strange feeling in an area of your lips or tongue. This may be burning itching, soreness, etc.
You might have something obstructing your airway and making breathing more difficult. You may have an earache that is persistent. Some patients at this stage have trouble swallowing. A patient may have pain somewhere else in the body that is being caused by oral cancer. It can also alter your vision and cause the lymph nodes in the neck and head to become enlarged.
During a screening for oral cancer, the dentist will look for all of these signs and follow up with abnormal areas if there are any. Getting an oral cancer screening isn’t painful, and you don’t have to do anything to prepare for it. Just come for your regular dental checkup, and you will get your oral exam.
When you have an area that isn’t normal, we can help. Call the Center for Family & Implant Dentistry to make an appointment for your exam.