One reason why half yearly visits to the dentist are recommended is because of the screening for oral cancer. During a routine checkup, the dentist examines the mouth and throat to make sure there are no early signs of cancer development. Oral cancer can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated in time.
What is oral cancer?
Cancer is, in its simplest form, a condition when something goes wrong with the normal life cycle of a cell and it starts to reproduce uncontrollably. Oral cancer is where a tumor develops on the surface of the tongue, mouth, lips or gums. It appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that doesn’t go away.
The most common type of oral cancer is squamous cell cancer. Squamous cells are found in many parts in the body including inside of the mouth and under the skin. Less common types of oral cancers include the ones that start in the melanocytes, the cells that give the skin its color. This type of oral cancer is known as oral malignant melanoma. Another type of oral cancer develops in the salivary glands and is known as adenocarcinoma.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
The common symptoms of oral cancer you should look for include:
• A swelling, thickening, lump, or bump that appears on any part of the mouth and doesn’t go away.
• White patches in the mouth
• Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
• Unexplained numbness or loss of feeling in the mouth
• A feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
• Difficulty chewing, speaking, or moving the jaw
• Pain in the ear
• Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
• Dramatic weight loss
What are the risk factors of oral cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, men are twice as likely to get oral cancer as women, and women over the age of 50 are at the greatest risk. Other risk factors of oral cancer include:
• Smoking. Smokers are six time more likely to get oral cancer than nonsmokers.
• Chewing Tobacco. People who chew tobacco products are 50 times more likely to get oral cancer.
• Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol drinkers are six times more likely to get oral cancer than nondrinkers.
• A family history of cancer
• Excessive sun exposure
• An infection with the human papilloma virus that causes genital and oral warts.
The diagnosis of oral cancer
As part of routine checkups, your dentist screens the mouth for any signs of oral cancer. More specifically, the dentist checks for any lumps or unusual tissue development in the mouth. If they detect an unusual or discolored tissue, they might do an oral brush biopsy. It’s a small and painless test that takes a small sample from the tissue and tests it for abnormal cell growth. If the tissue looks more suspicious, the dentist may perform a scalpel biopsy, which is performed under local anesthesia. These tests help to diagnose oral cancer early on before they have a chance to develop.
Treatment of oral cancer
Oral cancer is treated the same way as many other cancers, that is:
– Through surgery to remove the cancerous growth
– And radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy to remove any remaining cells
How to prevent oral cancer and how to detect it early
To prevent oral cancer, you should avoid smoking, drinking and using tobacco products. When going out in the sun, wear UV-A/B-blocking sun protective lotion on the lips as well. You should also eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh vegetables, citrus fruits, olive oil, and fish.
Moreover, to detect oral cancer early, you should conduct a self-exam every month. Using a bright light and mirror, look and feel the insides of your mouth for any lumps or unusual growth. Besides this, you should also go for regular dental checkups at least every 6 months. Sometimes cancerous lumps and spots can be very tiny to spot and so, your dentist might be able to detect them. Make sure you ask your dentist to perform an oral exam when you visit.