Every year, more than 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, and about 10,000 people die as a result of the disease. Many cases of oral cancer are caught during a routine dental exam or office visit. And for people who have oral cancer screenings every year (or even every six months), there’s a good chance the cancer will be caught in its early stages, when it’s most treatable.
Unfortunately, all too many people postpone their dental visits, sometimes waiting several years between checkups and cleanings. And that means oral cancer can go undetected – and grow – for much longer.
Obviously, one of the most important things you can do to make sure cancer is caught in its very early stages is to see your dentist regularly – typically every six months for a routine checkup and oral cancer screening, but at least once each year. In between visits, you can do a little self-examination to look for these symptoms associated with the early stages of oral cancer:
Mouth sore that doesn’t heal.
Sores are often the first sign of oral cancer, and they can occur anywhere in the mouth, including the palate and gums, or on the front or back of the lips. Not every sore is cancerous; in most cases, sores will heal and disappear within a week or so. But if you have a sore that hasn’t healed in two weeks or more – or a sore that continues to grow larger – it could be a sign of oral cancer.
Discolored “patches” in the mouth.
In addition to sores, white, pale or oddly-colored patches of tissue in your mouth or on your lips can also be a sign of cancer. Sometimes, these patches are slightly raised above the surface of the surrounding tissue. In a few cases, they may bleed.
Bleeding gums are most often a sign of gum disease (which also needs prompt attention!), but it can also be caused by cancerous growths. Bleeding can occur anywhere in your mouth as well as your throat.
Cancer that develops in the throat may cause a person’s voice to become hoarse or to change in another unusual way.
Most teeth become loose as a result of decay or trauma. But sometimes, a cancerous growth will push against the tooth, causing it to become loose or “wobbly.”
Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer screenings are quick and painless. First, the dentist will look for visible changes associated with cancer. Then, the dentist will use a special swab or brush to gently wipe the inside surfaces of your mouth, collecting a small sample of cells. The swab will be sent to a lab where the cells will be carefully examined. If your dentist notices an unusual area in your mouth, they may take a very tiny sample of tissue for further evaluation. The area will be numbed before the tissue sample is collected.
Regular oral cancer screenings are essential for helping you maintain not only good oral health but good overall health as well. If you notice any unusual changes in your mouth, your bite, your throat, your lips or your voice, it’s always a good idea to call the office.
And one more thing: While tobacco users are more likely to develop oral cancer, the disease can – and does – occur in anyone. Whether or not you have a history of smoking, you need regular oral cancer screenings to help you stay healthy.
Call Princeton Center for Dental Aesthetics & Implants today at 609-924-1414 to schedule your screening.