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Oral Cancer Screening

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Oral cancer can have life changing consequences as well as a 5-year survival rate of less than 64%. This is the reason it is very important to undergo oral cancer screening for early diagnosis and treatment. Regular visits to the dentist may help in oral cancer screening.

What is Screening?

Before we go into the details of oral cancer screening, let us first understand what is oral cancer screening. It is the procedure wherein a person is examined for symptoms related to cancer. Screening is very useful in diagnosis of early stage cancer, which is easier to treat. It is not always necessary to have cancer, if the doctor suggests a screening. The procedure is a precautionary measure taken especially if one comes under the risk group.

What is the Oral Cavity?

The oral cavity consists of the lips, cheek lining, front part of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the palate, and the gums. It also includes the throat, back section of the tongue, the base where the tongue attaches to the floor of the mouth and the back section of the throat.

Why is it Necessary?

Oral cancer screening is very helpful in detection of mouth cancer or any kind of precancerous lesions. It should be noted none of the studies have any proof that oral cancer screening helps save lives. However, it is very useful for people who come under the high risk of oral cancer.

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What Increases the Risk of Oral Cancer?

There are certain risk factors that can lead to oral cancer such as:

  • Use of tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, chewing tobacco, etc.
  • Heavy alcohol drinkers
  • Heavy exposure to the sun that can increase chances of lip cancer
  • Previous diagnosis of oral cancer
  • Exposure of the human papilloma virus (HPV)

What Are The Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

Symptoms of oral cancer may include:

  • A mouth sore or irritation that never goes away
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in the mouth or lips
  • The appearance of red or white patches in the mouth or under the tongue
  • Lump or thickness or rough spot
  • Problems or pain when chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the tongue or even the jaw
  • The difference in the way the teeth fit together after one closes the mouth

What Happens During Oral Cancer Screening?

The dentist will discuss the various steps related to the screening process with the patient. He will also discuss various factors that may increase the risk of developing cancer. The dentist will carry out extra-oral or intra-oral examination.

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Extra-oral Examination

  • The dentist will observe the face and neck of the patient for any swelling, abnormalities, asymmetry or moles.
  • The dentist will observe the vermillion border of the lips and mouth for any changes in the color or texture
  • The lymph nodes in the neck will be checked for any enlargement or abnormality.

Intra-oral Examination

  • The dentist will have to open the mouth of the patient half-way and examine the sulcus and the labial mucosa.
  • Next, the maxillary and mandibular sulci on both sides will be observed
  • The cheek will be retracted and the buccal mucosa on both sides will be observed for any changes in the color or texture.
  • The tongue will be observed at rest and then when protruded for any changes in color, texture, mobility, distribution of papillae or symmetry.
  • The dentist will then hold the tongue and retract the cheeks to inspect the lateral borders of the tongue.
  • Next, the tongue will be lifted and inspected to observe the ventral surface and the floor of the mouth.
  • Using a dental mirror, the tongue will be depressed to observe the soft and hard palates.

The systemic screening of the full head and neck cancer screening at a routine check-up takes less than 2 minutes.

What Happens After Oral Cancer Screening?

The screening may help the dentist discover signs of mouth cancer or precancerous lesions. If this is the case, the dentist may ask the patient to come back for a follow-up after a few weeks. This will help the dentist note any changes, growth or development in the abnormal area. The doctor may even ask the patient to undergo a biopsy procedure to determine if the cells are cancerous and require cancer treatment.

People who come under the risk group should definitely undergo oral cancer screening regularly. Dentists too should make sure they carry out the cancer screening during a regular check-up. This may help detect cancer before it spreads and leads to many complications.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 20, 2015