Oral Cancer Exam

According to the American Cancer Society's research, over 30,000 cases of oral cancer are detected annually, with more than 7,000 resulting in fatalities. The encouraging news is that early diagnosis through regular oral cancer exams and prompt treatment significantly improves the chances of successful outcomes.

Oral cancer follows a pathological progression, starting with an asymptomatic stage where typical cancer signs may not be easily noticeable. Therefore, the oral cancer examinations conducted by dentists hold critical importance. Oral cancers can exhibit diverse histologic types, including teratoma, adenocarcinoma, and melanoma. However, the most prevalent form is malignant squamous cell carcinoma, typically originating in the tissues of the lips and mouth.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including: 

  1. Tongue
  2. Salivary Glands
  3. Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
  4. Gums
  5. Face
  6. Lips 
  7. Mouth

Reasons for oral cancer examinations

It is worth highlighting that approximately 75 percent of oral cancers are associated with modifiable behaviors, including smoking, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Your dentist can offer educational resources and information to support lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.

Early diagnosis of oral cancer significantly improves treatment outcomes. Therefore, any observable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth, or surrounding areas should be promptly assessed by a healthcare professional. During the oral cancer examination, the dentist and dental hygienist will thoroughly examine the maxillofacial and oral regions, paying close attention to any signs of pathological changes.

The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exams.

    1. Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) change.

    2. 2. Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.

    3. Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless procedure. During the visual examination, the dentist will carefully observe for any abnormalities and gently palpate the face, glands, and neck to check for unusual bumps. Additionally, the use of lasers can be an invaluable tool in oral cancer screenings. These lasers have the ability to detect pathological changes below the surface that may not be visible to the naked eye.

If any abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia, or lumps are detected, the dentist will proceed with a diagnostic evaluation and develop a suitable treatment plan. If the initial treatment plan proves ineffective, a biopsy of the affected area may be necessary. The biopsy involves a clinical assessment to determine the stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is diagnosed when the basement membrane of the epithelium is disrupted. Malignant forms of oral cancer can potentially spread to other areas within the oral and maxillofacial regions, presenting additional secondary risks. Treatment methods can vary depending on the specific diagnosis but may include surgical excision, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

While regular bi-annual check-ups with the dentist and hygienist involve a thorough examination of the mouth for any changes or lesions, it is recommended to undergo a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening at least once a year to ensure early detection and appropriate management.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please contact our practice.

Contact Us.We encourage you to contact us with any questions or comments you may have. Please call our office or use the quick contact form.

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We encourage you to contact us with any questions or comments you may have. Please call our office or use the quick contact form below.