Originating in or around the mouth and throat, oral cancer is a risk for patients of all ages. This goes for both smokers and non-smokers.
For that reason, many dental patients look forward to having an annual or biannual oral cancer screening.
Because oral cancer can pose little to no symptoms at first, it is essential that one receives an oral cancer screening to catch this potentially-deadly condition as soon as possible. If caught early, optimal treatment can ensure a speedy recovery with few, if any, complications.
How do dentists conduct oral cancer screenings?
Dental professionals use both their eyes as well as dental equipment to spot early signs of oral cancer. Your dentist will also feel around the areas of the mouth, jaw, and neck for any abnormal lumps that may indicate cancer.
If there is a spot a dentist believes is cancer, they will have the area tested in a laboratory.
An oral cancer screening is a quick and painless process. One has nothing to lose when opting for this screening.
What are symptoms of oral cancer?
Symptoms vary from individual to individual, mainly depending on the type of cancer and how long it has progressed.
Many may not even know they have oral cancer until early detection equipment indicates cancer cells are present.
However, some do notice symptoms before getting a diagnosis. Some symptoms may include:
- Oral sores that get worse and won’t go away
- Difficulty swallowing and/or chewing
- Abnormal lumps in/around the mouth or neck
- Lump-in-throat sensation that’s persistent or worsening with time
- Tongue numbness or pain that persists
- A consistent sore throat
- Irregular patches in the mouth (often red or white)
- Hoarseness in a voice that won’t go away
- Loose and/or lost teeth
- General pain in mouth or throat
If you observe any of these indications, it is wise to get in contact with your dentist and schedule an appointment to ensure everything is healthy.
Although your oral symptoms may not be linked to cancer, an oral cancer screening only takes a few minutes and provides ease-of-mind. Nevertheless, other causes for your oral-related symptoms can be appropriately diagnosed and treated by a dental professional.
What types of oral cancers exist?
Squamous cell carcinoma
Accounts for over 90 percent of all oral cancers. Consists of cancer cells that are flat and scale-like in their arrangement. Found in the mouth and throat
Develops in lymph tissue (tongue, tonsils, etc.), often causing enlarged lymph nodes
Salivary gland carcinomas
Includes several subcategories of oral cancers that develop in minor salivary glands. Grows in the mouth and throat
White lesions in/around mouth area (flat or raised) that tend to bleed if scraped. Often precancerous; can develop into other cancers. A quarter of cases are already cancerous.
Red lesions in/around mouth area (flat or raised) that tend to bleed if scraped. Often precancerous; can develop into other cancers. A quarter of cases are already cancerous.
Slow-growing cancer found in about 5 percent of oral cancer patients that is rare to spread to other areas of the body
Non-cancerous oral concerns:
The benign oral cavity and oropharyngeal tumors
Non-cancerous tumors that develop in the mouth and throat areas that need to be surgically removed to reduce chances of cancer from developing
Overall, oral screenings are essential to search for, diagnosis, and/or treat cancer before it begins, worsens, and takes over other parts of the body.
Ways to reduce risks of oral cancer include minimal alcohol intake, a healthy diet, limited tobacco usage, and sun exposure in moderation. Age, HPV infections, level of oral standing, and immunosuppression account for a greater oral cancer risk.
That said, play it safe with oral cancer screenings, and consult a dental professional regarding abnormal changes in the mouth or throat area that appear alarming.