Though other cancers get more attention, oral cancer is the eighth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. And even when it doesn’t kill, it can leave victims disfigured and sometimes unable to speak or swallow.
Why is this cancer so deadly? Because it’s generally not caught in its early stages, and physicians don’t often screen for it. Instead, oral cancer is typically first diagnosed by a dentist. And like many dentists across the country, we’re committed to spreading the word about this deadly condition in April, which has been designated Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
Warning signs of oral cancer.
Common symptoms of oral cancer include difficulty swallowing, mouth sores that don’t heal, changes in the color or texture of oral tissue, a lump in the neck, or pain in the mouth, throat, or ear. But in its early stages, oral cancer often presents with no symptoms at all. That’s why it’s important to get a yearly oral cancer screening as part of your regular dental checkup.
Our six-step oral cancer screening.
At Oakville Dental Care, we take a meticulous approach to every aspect of treatment, and that includes oral cancer screenings. Our exam includes:
1. Tongue examination: We ask you to stick out your tongue as far as you can, then we check all surfaces for lumps and discolored patches. The tongue is the most common area for oral cancers in patients who do not use tobacco.
2. Lip and cheek check: We also feel around the inside and outside of your mouth; again, looking for lumps, bumps, and abnormalities in tissue color and texture.
3. Floor and roof probe: We examine the areas at the top and bottom of your mouth, as well as all around the gumline, looking for anything unusual.
4. Palate tickle: We check your hard palate for areas of softness, as well as white or red patches.
5. Neck check: Enlarged lymph nodes can signal an infection or other problem, and these can be felt by examining the neck area by touch.
6. Tonsil exam: We depress your tongue with a dental mirror to check out your tonsils, another area where oral cancer can appear.
In the event that we do find a suspicious area, we can perform a simple test called a brush biopsy, which helps determine if the cells are cancerous. If the test comes out positive, or if we feel you require additional testing or treatment, we’ll refer you to a specialist.
We recommend that all adults get an oral cancer screening at least once a year. If you’re due for a checkup, give us a call 314.487.0333 to schedule yours today.
Actor Michael Douglas talks about the common virus responsible for the rapid rise in oral cancers among younger, non-tobacco-using patients.