Early Detection

Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination. Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.

During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will carefully examine the inside of your mouth and tongue for flat, painless, white or red spots or small sores. Although most of the time these are harmless, some are not. While harmful oral spots or sores often look identical to benign spots, testing can tell them apart.

If you have a sore with an obvious cause, your dentist may treat it and ask you to return for re-examination. However, your dentist might notice a spot or sore that looks harmless and does not have a clear cause. To ensure that a spot or sore is not dangerous, your dentist may choose to perform a simple test, such as a brush test.

A brush test collects cells from a suspicious lesion in the mouth, then sends those cells to a laboratory for analysis. If cancerous or precancerous cells are found, the lesion can be surgically removed if necessary during a separate procedure. It’s important to know that all atypical and positive results from a brush test must be confirmed by incisional biopsy and histology.

Know what to look for:

o Tiny, unnoticed white or red spots or sores anywhere in the mouth.
o Oral cancer can affect and part of the oral cavity, including the lips, gum tissue, cheek lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate.
o Any change in the way the teeth fit together can be a sign of oral cancer.
o A sore or sores that bleed easily or do not heal.
o A change in the color of oral tissues.
o A lump, thickening rough spot, crust, or small eroded area.
o Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.
o Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.

Who is at risk?

o Oral cancer most often occurs in those who use tobacco in any form.
o Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of lip cancer.
o Oral cancer is more likely to strike after age 40.
o Oral cancer can affect people of all ages, regardless of lifestyle.

What can I do to prevent oral cancer?

o Studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may prevent the development of potentially cancerous lesions.
o Refraining from alcohol and tobacco use reduces the risk of oral cancer.