Oral Cancer Exam
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, close to 43,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year and will cause over 8,000 deaths. This equates to approximately one American dying every hour, every day. Of those 43,250 individuals, only 6/10 will be alive in 5 years. This poor survival rate is due to late detection. Typically, oral cancers are dangerous because they are usually detected late– once it has reached an advanced stage. Fortunately, oral cancer can be diagnosed with an annual cancer exam provided by Dr. Maggie Chao. If caught early, oral cancer can be effectively treated.
An oral cancer examination is fast and painless. Its objective is to identify small changes in the lining tissues of the mouth, lips and tongue that may signify the early stages of this type of cancer. The screening is primarily a visual and tactile (touch) examination. If any abnormalities are noted, a small tissue sample can be retrieved for further testing in a laboratory.
People at risk
The answer might surprise you. Oral cancer used to be thought of as an older person’s disease, and it still mostly affects those over 40. But today, younger people form the fastest-growing segment among oral cancer patients. This is primarily due to the spread of the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16).
Of course, the other major risk factors still apply: If you’re middle aged or older, a moderate to heavy drinker or a long-time tobacco user, you have a greater chance of developing oral cancer. Chronic exposure to the sun, long known to cause skin cancer, is also associated with cancers of the lips. Genetic factors are thought to have a major impact on who gets the disease as well.
Detecting Oral Cancer
A thorough screening for oral cancer is part of your routine dental checkup — another reason why you should be examined regularly. The screening includes a visual assessment of your lips, tongue, and the inside of your mouth, including a check for red or white patches or unusual sores. You may be palpated (pressed with fingers) to detect the presence of lumps and swellings, and your tongue may be gently pulled aside for an even better view. A special light, dye, or other procedure may also be used to help check any suspect areas. If anything appears to be out of the ordinary, a biopsy can be easily performed.
If you notice abnormal sores or color changes in the tissue of your mouth, lips and tongue, they may be a symptom of oral cancer — most, however, are completely benign. But sores or other unusual changes that haven’t gone away by themselves after 2-3 weeks should be examined. Remember, the only way to accurately diagnose oral cancer is through a laboratory report. Early diagnosis, aided by thorough screenings at your regular dental checkups, is one of the best defenses against oral cancer.