Nearly 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. Over 9,500 people lose their lives to this disease. Three quarters of all cancers of the head and neck begin in the oral cavity. A significant part of the problem with oral cancers is that they are frequently discovered too late. When found in the initial stages, there is a higher chance of survival.
Oral Cancer Screening and Your Annual Dental Exam
Many people do not have the screening necessary to detect oral cancers early. In the general population fewer than 20% of people receive oral cancer screenings. This is a simple procedure that takes a few minutes and it can save your life.
Many dentists include a routine screening as part of the annual dental checkup. Some dentists also use additional testing as part of the screening. These extra tests are used to identify any areas in the oral cavity that may have abnormal cells.
Early Detection with Oral Cancer Screening
Though there has been debate whether healthy individuals with no or little risk for cancer need oral cancer screening, early detection gives individuals a much better chance of surviving. Precancerous lesions or mouth sores can be identified through these painless screenings.
Dentists also look for any abnormal swellings, nodules or lumps in the soft tissues. Most oral cancers begin on the tongue. The lips and the floor of the mouth are other areas where cancerous cells may develop.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
There are certain factors that increase a person’s risk for oral cancer. While everyone is aware of the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer, what may not be as well-known is the fact that they also increase a person’s risk for oral cancer. In fact, any tobacco use can increase your risk for oral cancer. This includes cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff.
People who use alcohol heavily should have regular oral cancer screenings as well. Other risk factors are previous diagnosis of oral cancer and high exposure to sun. Cancer of the lips is greatly increased for people who spend hours in the sun.
Oral Cancer Screenings Have Limitations
Most sores in the mouth are noncancerous. A routine exam can usually determine whether the sore is cancerous. If your dentist finds any suspicious areas, he or she will need to do more extensive testing. The suspicious cells will be removed, and a biopsy will be done to find out if they are cancerous or not. Unfortunately, oral cancer screening is not sufficient to detect all cancers of the mouth; however, early detection is still the best way of increasing your chances if you are diagnosed with cancer.
At Waller Dental we promote education around maintaining your best oral health. Give us a call and schedule your dental checkup. For more information, ask us about oral cancer screening.