Other than avoiding tobacco products, a routine dental check-up is the single best thing you can do to help prevent oral cancer. According to a study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center, the survival rate for oral cancer, if detected early, is quite good. In fact, the 5-year relative survival rate amongst those who have been diagnosed with throat or oral cancer is more than 83%. Of course, the survival rate gradually diminishes the longer you go without being treated.
SYMPTOMS OF ORAL CANCER
A licensed dentist is very adept at identifying early signs of oral cancer, which typically originates at the base of the mouth or on the lips and are called carcinomas, cancer arising in the epithelial tissue of the skin. So, what do these early signs of oral cancer look like, exactly? The following symptoms are, in many cases, indicative of oral cancer:
- Mouth sores that do not heal
- Bleeding in the mouth
- White or extremely red patches on the lining of the mouth
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
Of course, if you are experiencing any of these problems, you’re encouraged to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. However, routine dental visits can unearth problems well before symptoms become apparent. In addition to reviewing your X-rays, your dentist may also use a handheld scope, like a Velscope for example, to screen for abnormalities in your oral tissue. Unfortunately, not all dentists use scopes as part of their oral cancer screenings; therefore, you should speak with your dentist to find out what their oral cancer screenings entail.
HOW ORAL CANCER IS DETECTED
In addition to scopes and X-rays, a dentist will also feel the inside of your cheeks, as well as your lips, with their hands. During this process, your practitioner will be checking for lumps and other thick masses that may prove to be cancerous. If a problem is detected, the next step will be to order a biopsy, which is used to confirm the presence of cancer. If cancer is confirmed, you may be referred to a specialist, most likely an oncologist, who will recommend a specific course of treatment, based on the severity of your cancer.
For most people, the purpose of a dental check-up is to maintain a beautiful smile, but an oral screening, which is part of the overall dental exam, may save your life.