Importance of Oral Cancer Screening

Only 60 percent of Americans see their dentists every year, according to the American Dental Association, and even fewer receive regular oral cancer screenings. Regular dental visits can play an important role in the early diagnoses and treatment of oral cancer. Screening for oral cancer requires no uncomfortable or invasive procedures, is painless, inexpensive and requires just a trip to your dentist.

More than 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. The five-year survival rate is just over 60 percent. Those who are diagnosed early may suffer fewer treatment-related health problems and may have a better long-term prognosis.

Oral cancer has long been difficult to diagnose. New screening options can include the use of lights, dyes and other tools. A comprehensive screening will involve both visual and manual examinations. Areas of concern may need to be biopsied.

Symptoms of oral cancer can include:

• Painless sores
• Discolorations
• Distended areas
• Irritation
• Hoarseness
• White or red patches anywhere in the mouth
• Rough areas

Any symptoms that remain beyond two weeks should be further evaluated. Although all patients can benefit from routine oral cancer screenings, those who are at an increased risk may need more frequent evaluations.

Common risk factors are:

• Tobacco use, including chewing tobacco, cigarettes, pipes and cigars
• Heavy alcohol consumption
• A history of HPV infection
• Excessive sun exposure

If your dentist suspects or has diagnosed oral cancer, you may be instructed to quit smoking or drinking. Both habits can reduce the effectiveness of your treatments, delay healing and increase your risk of developing other cancers. Surgery may be recommended to remove the diseased tissues, and you may also be a candidate for chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Oral cancer can be a serious, life-threatening condition, but routine dental checkups that include a comprehensive screening may be able to save your life.