We are taught early in life how important it is to get regular physical examinations. Women are reminded to get their mammograms and men to have their prostates checked. As part of your overall health, oral cancer screening should be a part of your regular preventative healthcare protocol. The purpose of this exam is to look for any signs of precancerous or cancerous conditions of your mouth. By identifying oral cancer early on – the better the chance to cure it.
Oral cancer screening is usually performed by your dentist.
During your regularly scheduled dental examination – your dentist will carefully examine your mouth and tongue. There are certain factors that increase the risk of oral cancer.
Any of these risk factors may increase your risk of developing oral cancer. You can reduce the risk by eliminating alcohol and tobacco use as well as limiting sun exposure. Make sure your dentist is aware of any of these risk factors.
Your dentist will check each part of your mouth carefully using a light. Most oral examinations are done with variations to these types of exams:
He or she will examine your tongue. The tongue is a common site for oral cancers in non-smoking individuals. Using gauze to hold your tongue, your dental professional will examine the sides, top and underside and feel your tongue to identify any lumps or bumps, red or white patches.
By rolling the area inside of your cheeks and lips using the thumb and forefingers, your dentist will be able to feel any unusual lumps and see any discoloration.
Using the pointer finger of each hand – simultaneously - the floor of your mouth will be felt to discover any lumps or bumps and red patches. The roof of your mouth will also be felt and examined to see if there is any softness of the hard palate and to investigate any red or white patches.
As part of an oral cancer screening – your dentist will palpate your neck to identify any enlarged lymph nodes. Lymph node enlargement could be a sign of an infection or perhaps something more serious. Your tonsillar area will also be examined to see if there is any redness or any unusual lumps.
Any of the areas of your mouth can be the site of a developing oral lesion or cancer.
If your dentist sees anything suspicious during your oral cancer screening – a biopsy may be taken. Many times, even unusual lumps or discolored patches are biopsied and are found to be benign, or noncancerous. In the case of a cancer diagnosis – your dental professional will lead you to the appropriate treatment.
The best way to avoid cancer of any kind – is to make sure you receive preventative care on a regular basis as recommended by all of your health care providers. If you haven’t had an oral cancer screening as recommended by your dentist, make the time to schedule an appointment soon.