According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year. More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient. The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.
Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable. This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important. Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma. The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma. This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.
Early detection is vital in the battle against oral cancer. At Sisko Dentistry in Tallmadge, OH, we recognize the importance of proactive measures in dental care. Oral cancer screening is integral to our commitment to your overall well-being, ensuring that any signs of potential cancerous growth are identified at the outset.
There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:
- Salivary Glands
- Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
Reasons for oral cancer examinations
It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.
When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective. Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible. During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.
The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:
- Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.
- Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.
- Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.
Symptoms Indicating the Need for Oral Cancer Screening
- Persistent mouth sores that don’t heal
- Lumps or rough areas in the mouth
- White or red patches inside the mouth
- Persistent throat soreness or feeling of something caught in the throat
- Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw and tongue
The Importance of Early Detection
- Timely Intervention: Catching oral cancer in its early stages increases the chances of successful treatment, minimizing invasive procedures and enhancing the prognosis.
- Comprehensive Oral Health: Regular screenings ensure that all aspects of your oral health, beyond just teeth and gums, are monitored, offering a holistic approach to dental care.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing you’re being proactive about your health brings peace of mind. Regular screenings ensure you do all you can to avoid potential issues.
The Oral Cancer Screening Process
- Visual Examination: The initial step is a thorough visual examination of your face, neck, lips, and the entire mouth. The doctor looks for any abnormalities or signs of potential concern.
- Physical Examination: Following the visual check, the doctor will physically feel the areas around the head, cheeks, and jaw to detect any unusual lumps or nodules.
- Advanced Techniques: Depending on initial findings and technological advancements, the doctor may employ special lights or dyes that can better highlight abnormal tissues.
Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment
The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process. During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will look for abnormality and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps. Lasers which can highlight pathologic changes are also a wonderful tool for oral cancer checks. The laser can “look” below the surface for abnormal signs and lesions which would be invisible to the naked eye.
If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan. In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed. The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.
Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken. Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats. Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth, but a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening should be performed at least once each year.
Prevention and Proactive Measures
Prevention is always the best medicine. Regular oral hygiene practices, like brushing and flossing, combined with avoiding risk factors such as excessive alcohol intake and tobacco use, can help reduce the risk of oral cancer. Moreover, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables bolsters oral health. Protecting your lips from excessive sun exposure with sunblocks or lip balms can also reduce the risk.
Outlook and Post-Screening Guidance
The early detection of oral cancer cannot be emphasized enough. Treatment can be initiated promptly when identified in its initial stages, thereby increasing its effectiveness and the potential for a full recovery. Any abnormalities found during the screening don’t necessarily indicate cancer, but they necessitate further examination. Our doctor might suggest more comprehensive tests or biopsies to discern the nature and extent of the detected anomalies.
Even when the screening results are clear, it’s paramount not to become complacent. Those who have risk factors linked to oral cancer should be particularly attentive. Adhering to regular screening schedules ensures that any changes or new developments are caught early. This proactive stance on your oral health not only provides peace of mind but also acts as a safeguard against potential future complications.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of oral cancer screening?
Oral cancer screening is a preventive measure to detect potential cancerous growth in their early stages. Early detection improves the success rate of treatment and enhances overall oral well-being.
How often should I get screened for oral cancer at Sisko Dentistry?
While the frequency depends on individual risk factors, it’s generally advisable to have an oral cancer screening during your routine dental check-ups. Discuss your health history with our doctor to get a personalized recommendation.
Is the oral cancer screening process painful?
No, the screening is a non-invasive procedure that involves a visual and physical examination of the oral cavity and surrounding areas. If any abnormalities are found, further tests may be recommended.
Taking the Next Step
Understanding the significance of oral cancer screening is the first step in prioritizing your oral health. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above or if it’s simply time for a routine check-up, don’t hesitate. Contact Sisko Dentistry in Tallmadge, OH, today at (330) 633-9510. Let us join you in your journey towards ensuring optimal oral health and peace of mind.