Oral Cancer Screening
Oral Cancer Screening
Your Next Visit to the Dentist May Be Life Saving
When you think about the different forms of cancer, your mind probably first goes to breast, cervical, brain, or even prostate cancer. But did you know that according to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 53,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year? That’s over 100 new cases each day in the US and the rate is increasing.
At Gold Coast Smiles we are not only dedicated to the health and appearance of your smile, but also to your overall wellness. Our office provides a total health approach to your dental care, which includes an oral cancer screening as a part of your routine examination. Like many cancers, oral cancer can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
The Facts on Oral Cancer
This year over 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer. Other names for oral cancer include mouth cancer, tongue cancer, throat cancer, and tonsil cancer. Oral cancer can occur on the lips, gums, tongue, inside lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth, and the floor of the mouth.
Oral cancer is largely viewed as a disease that affects those over the age of 40, but it can affect all ages, and both sexes fairly frequently. When determining who the typical oral cancer patient is, there is a common misconception that only individuals who smoke develop it. While smoking is one of the largest risk factors, individuals who have never smoked a day in their lives have been diagnosed with oral cancer. Additional risk factors include:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Increased and lengthy sun exposure (which increases the risk of lip cancer)
- Any form of tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco and chewing tobacco
- Previous oral cancer diagnosis
If you were to look at the average person who is diagnosed with oral cancer, you’d find males over the age of 50 as the typical patient. However, in recent years, the demographics have started to shift due to an increase in HPV in younger people. Individuals in their 30s and 40s are now being diagnosed with oral cancer more than ever.
HPV and the Link to Oral Cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. HPV has been associated with almost all cervical cancers, most anal cancers (~88%), and 70% of vaginal, 50% of penile, and 43% of vulvar cancers. More recently, oral HPV infection (especially HPV 16) has emerged as one of the leading causes of head-and-neck cancers. Since it doesn’t present obvious symptoms in most individuals, it can be easily transmitted without a person ever knowing they have it.
How HPV causes oral cancer lies in the fact that HPV is an infection that causes cellular changes. If your body is unable to fight the infection, you can develop tumors from the altered cells that cause cancer. If you have oral HPV, tumors will form in the throat, on the roof of the mouth or tongue. It is important to note that HPV can lie dormant in the body for several years before developing into cancer.
Vaccinations are now available to prevent oral HPV and have proven to be effective. One study done in 2017 found that oral HPV was almost 90% lower in men who had received HPV vaccine than those who had not. Similar results were found in a study on women.
Why Early Screening for Oral Cancer is Important
The single most important factor that affects potential cure of the disease following treatment is the stage of cancer at the time of presentation. The long-term outlook for those with oral cancer is often bleak due to late diagnosis. Often, the cancer is not found until it has reached advanced stages or spread to other areas of the body. With early diagnosis through preventative oral cancer screenings, oral cancer has one of the highest rates of survival (88%). Due to a lack of commitment to preventative dental care, most people don’t realize they have the disease until advanced stages. Early diagnosis is essential for effective treatment. Only about 1/3 of all oral cancer discoveries are caught early. When found late, oral cancer has a very low five-year survival rate.
Routine visits to the dentist are important for many reasons. Oral cancer can be treated and the screening only takes about a minute. The procedure is virtually painless and many patients do not even realize they are having it done. Our highly trained hygienists and Dr. Andrew Sami both perform an oral cancer screening to check for any signs of oral cancer or abnormal tissue growth. This will help ensure any areas of suspicion are identified and caught early to allow for better outcomes and less invasive treatments.
Oral Cancer Signs & Symptoms
We have the training and tools to ensure early signs and symptoms of oral cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. While these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious problems, it is very important to visit our office to rule out the possibility of oral cancer. The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
While these symptoms may be signs of other oral health concerns, if they persist for up to 2 weeks, it is imperative to schedule a visit with our office as soon as possible for an evaluation.
How Our Oral Cancer Screenings Work
Every time you have a cleaning and check-up at Gold Coast Smiles, Dr. Sami and his hygienists will do a visual oral cancer screening for you. Our team is trained in an efficient but thorough screening that involves an examination of your oral cavity as a whole (not just your teeth) to detect cancerous and precancerous conditions as well as any other areas of suspicion. Besides a visual examination of your mouth, we will also palpate the tissue of your mouth and throat to detect any abnormalities. The goal of the screening is to identify any areas of concerns such as:
- Sores that are not healing
- Red or white patches and any other areas of discoloration
- Swellings near the lips, cheeks, throat and other oral tissues
During your examination, if we notice any areas of concern, we will refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and assessment as well as to develop an official diagnosis. If a cancer diagnosis is made, you can rest assured that our dental office will be a part of your cancer team, ensuring you have available quality treatment options.
Aside from receiving an oral cancer screening during your checkup at our office, there are many things you can do to help prevent oral cancer:
If you haven’t been screened for oral cancer in quite some time, or believe you may have areas of concerns such as lumps, cracks, ulcerations or areas of discoloration that are not healing, please call our office immediately to schedule an evaluation as soon as possible.
Oral Cancer FAQ
Who is at risk for oral cancer?
In the past, oral cancer was believed to be associated primarily with older age and tobacco use. Recent studies and trends now prove this is no longer the case. In fact, in people younger than 50 years old, HPV is now believed to be the main causative agent. Because the risk factors now include tobacco, alcohol, and/or exposure to HPV, nearly every adult in the U.S. is at risk for developing oral cancer. For this reason, Gold Coast Smiles recommends basic oral cancer screenings at every routine checkup appointment. This is similar to other cancer screenings like mammogram, PSA-test, and Pap-smear. Like any cancer, it is only through early detection that your chances for survival improve and you can avoid more complex and invasive treatments.
Where does oral cancer occur?
About two-thirds of cancer of the mouth or oral cavity occurs in the floor of mouth and tongue, but can occur in the upper or lower jaw, lips, gums, and cheek lining. Just behind the mouth is an area known as the orophyarnx. Oropharygeal cancer (one-third of cases) occurs in the back of the tongue, tonsils and throat tissue.
I have something unusual in my mouth and I'm worries. What should I do?
For starters, make a note of the date you first noticed it. Take a photo of it with your digital camera or mobile phone. Once you have done this, then pick up the phone and give our office a call so we can schedule you in for an immediate evaluation and rule out any possibility of pathology. Sores, white spots and rough areas should heal within a couple of weeks. After two weeks, if it is still present, they can raise a red flag and be labeled as an area of concern. Our office employs a more proactive philosophy in prevention and diagnostics and recommends patients contact us right away instead of waiting and seeing what transpires.