Cancer: The Importance of Early Detection
It is now easier than ever to detect oral cancer early, when the opportunity for a cure is great. Only half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years. Oral cancer screening should be a routine part of a dental examination. Regular dental cleanings including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions. You may have a very small, but dangerous, oral spot or sore and not be aware of it.
Your dentist or dental hygienist will carefully examine the inside of your mouth, tongue, palette, uvula, and neck. Some of what they are looking for is very subtle. Is there asymmetry, or does part of your external mouth not move well. A good practitioner is sensitive to small give-aways… a slur in speech, a subtle swelling on one side of the face causing asymmetry. By themselves, these are not areas of specific oral cancer concern, but they are all part of putting together the puzzle of different signs, which may indicate the patient is worthy of a referral to a specialist, or further diagnostic procedures.
An atypical lesion can be flat, painless, white or red or a small sore. Although most of these are harmless, some are not. Harmful oral spots or sores often look identical to those that are harmless, but testing can tell them apart. If you have a sore with a likely cause, your dentist may treat it or measure the area and ask you to return for a follow-up exam in a few days to verify if the lesion is from trauma and is healed. Today there are non-invasive tests to better ensure the spot or sore is harmless. A brush test collects cells from a suspicious lesion in the mouth. The cells are sent to a laboratory for analysis. . If precancerous cells are found, the lesion can be surgically removed. It’s important to know that all atypical and positive results from a brush test must be confirmed by incisional biopsy and histology.
What You Should Know about Oral Cancer
- Tobacco use in any form
- Alcohol use combined with tobacco greatly increases risk
- Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of lip cancer
Oral Cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.
- It can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, cheek lining, uvula, tongue and the hard or soft palate.
- Other signs include:
- A change in the way the teeth fit together
- A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
- A color change of the oral tissues
- A lump, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
Oral cancers can occur in people who do not smoke and have no other known risk factors.
Oral Cancer is more likely to strike after age 40.
Studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may prevent the development of potentially cancerous lesions.