Oral Cancer Screening
There are over 48,000 cases of oral cancer diagnosed in America every year, resulting in over 9,000 deaths from oral and oropharyngeal cancer yearly. Oral cancer refers to cancers of the oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer occurs in the middle part of the throat behind the tongue, the back part of the tongue, the soft palate and the tonsils. Oral cancer screening can be done via a physical examination or can be done with various instruments.
Why Have a Screening for Oral Cancer
The problem with oral cancer screening is the fact that most common mouth and throat abnormalities look like oral cancer. Because of this similarity, most people avoid going for a screening until it is too late and the cancer is far advanced.
It is difficult for the dentist to say definitively whether you have oral cancer without doing a biopsy. The main reason for having regular oral cancer screening is to try and detect the oral cancer in its early stages, even when no symptoms are present. If the cancer is detected early, you stand a far greater chance of fighting the cancer with appropriate treatment, and lessening the chances of a re-occurrence.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
- A persistent sore in the mouth
- White or red patches in your mouth
- Numbness or tenderness in the lips and mouth
- A rough spot, lump or thickening in your mouth
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing or chewing
If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have oral cancer. If, however, these symptoms persist, it would be advisable to visit your dentist or doctor immediately.
How is Screening for Oral Cancer Done?
Physical Examination: The first step your dentist will use will be a physical examination. The whole of your mouth and throat will be carefully examined for any of the symptoms known to be associated with oral cancer.
Endoscopy: An endoscope is either a rigid or flexible tube with a light and viewing lens at the end of the tube. This is used to minutely examine the entire area of the mouth and throat. An endoscopy is superior to an examination with the naked eye as it gets much closer to the suspected area, and is also used to examine areas that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Biopsy: A biopsy is a technique whereby small amounts of tissue from the suspect area are removed. This is usually done with a fine needle that is inserted into the suspected area for the removal of cells. Recently, dentists have started using an oral brush biopsy during routine examinations to help them detect cancer in any area that doesn’t look quite right. The cells collected are sent to a laboratory for analysis and if cancer is suspected, a traditional biopsy is performed.
More Complex Tools: Some dentists and doctors use more complex techniques and instruments to determine if you have oral cancer, or to confirm an initial diagnosis. These include x-rays, barium swallow, a CT or CAT scan, a MRI scan and ultrasound.
Early Detection Saves Lives
Research has found that most people are loath to go for oral cancer screening because of fear of the results. They assume that if they ignore the symptoms, they will disappear. Unfortunately, early detection of oral cancer is the surest way you have for a fighting chance of detecting and treating oral cancer. If you have noticed any abnormalities in your mouth, it is wisest to see a dentist as soon as possible.