The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings

What is an oral cancer screening?

When you visit your dentist for a regular check-up, they’re looking for more than just cavities. Often, dentists are the first healthcare professionals to detect oral cancer and are trained to do so. In addition to asking about any changes in your medical history, they will perform an oral cancer screening and inspect the inside of your mouth including the lining of your lips and cheeks, your gums, tongue, roof and floor of your mouth, and your tonsils for instance. They will also check your jaws, and areas around your head and neck for any abnormalities.

What is Oral Cancer

The Importance Of Oral Cancer Screenings

Cancer found on any area of the mouth is referred to as oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur commonly on the lips, gums, tongue, inside the cheeks, roof of the mouth, and floor of the mouth. Oral cancer is classified as a type of head and neck cancer. Oral cancer develops as a result of genetic mutations in the DNA of cells located in or on the mouth. Oral cancers can eventually spread to other areas of the body.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

If you notice something off in your mouth, be sure to let your dentist know as soon as possible so that any abnormalities can be caught early on. Some indications of oral cancer may include a sore or pain that does not seem to go away, an unexplained lump or asymmetry, red or white patches, a persistent sore throat, a change in your bite, or trouble chewing, swallowing, and/or speaking.

What are the factors causing Oral Cancer?

There are many reported factors that may increase the risk of developing oral cancers. Research has shown that men are 2X’s more at risk for suffering from oral cancer than women. In addition, individuals who use tobacco products, consume excessive amounts of alcohol, have had excessive sun exposure to the lips, or who have a weakened immune system are all at increased risks for developing oral cancer. A prominent risk factor for oral cancer that has increased over the years includes the sexually transmitted disease human papilloma virus (HPV). According to the American Cancer Society, in every two out of three cases of oropharyngeal cancers, HPV DNA has been found. Individuals with HPV-positive oral cancers tend to have a lower risk of the cancer recurring and a higher survival rate than individuals with HPV-negative cancers.

Treatment for oral cancer

If your dentist notices something unusual they may recommend a biopsy or make a referral to another specialist. Your dentist may also want to reexamine the lesion after a week or two during a follow-up exam. Once oral cancer is diagnosed, your healthcare professionals will determine the stage of the cancer, describing the size and extent of the location of the cancer. Treatment will then be determined based on the location and stage of the cancer, as well as your overall medical history. Treatment options may involve surgery, immunotherapy, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, or a combination of these treatments.

Oral cancer prevention

Early detection of cancer can help improve survival rates and treatment outcomes. Catching cancer early before it expands and spreads to other regions of the body may also even result in less invasive treatments. Being mindful of the risk factors that you can avoid such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as well as keeping up with regular doctor and dental appointments can help lower your risks of developing oral cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 11- to 12-year-old boys and girls to be vaccinated against HPV vaccine to help prevent cervical and other cancers. However, there is not enough research to conclude if the HPV vaccine will prevent oral cancers.

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