When it comes to oral cancer, the earlier the detection, the better the chances for implementing the right treatment for success. To help with this, patients need to undergo oral cancer screenings as part of their overall health plan to ensure any signs or symptoms are identified early on.
Fortunately, most regularly scheduled dental appointments already include this type of screening for patients today. Your dentist not only focuses on your dental health and helps to create a brighter smile but will also look for any abnormalities in your mouth and surrounding areas that may potentially be cancerous.
Here is what you or a family member can expect during an oral cancer screening and how accurate they are when it comes to detecting these suspicious abnormalities.
What Will an Oral Cancer Screening Involve?
You don’t need to prepare in any special way for an oral cancer screening. It is commonly conducted during your regularly scheduled dental appointments.
For the screening, your dentist will examine your mouth and throat in search of any abnormality. This search will include your gums, tongue, roof of the mouth, inner cheeks, and tonsils. The abnormalities may present themselves as ulcerations, bumps, swellings, or color patches.
In addition, your dentist will gently palpate your neck (lymph nodes), jaw, outside cheeks, and under the chin to feel for firm nodules or odd masses.
Another type of screening is also available today using more sophisticated equipment to identify abnormalities. For instance, at Stiles Dental Care in Medford, NJ, an innovative diagnostic tool called the VELscope Vx is already proving highly effective at detecting abnormalities that may be cancerous in patients. As a result, a quicker diagnosis and implementation of an effective treatment plan can occur.
Who is at Greatest Risk for Developing Oral Cancer?
Those at greatest risk of developing oral cancer will benefit even more from these regular screenings.
Generally, the following factors increase your risk for developing oral cancer:
- Tobacco use, including cigars, cigarettes, pipes, snuff, and chewing tobacco
- Heavy alcohol usage
- Significant sun exposure on the facial area
- A family history of cancer
- Weak or compromised immune system
- Previous diagnosis of oral cancer
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Even if these factors don’t apply to you, you can still develop oral cancer. Common symptoms to look out for include the following:
- Mouth or lip sores that are slow to heal
- Loose teeth
- Mouth or jaw pain
- Reddish or white patches inside the mouth
- A lump or other growth inside the mouth
- Ear pain
- Painful or difficult swallowing
If you experience any of these, contact your dentist to schedule an appointment and oral cancer screening.
How Accurate is Oral Cancer Screening?
Oral cancer screenings can be highly accurate in identifying abnormalities that may be signs of cancer formation in patients.
Following your oral cancer screening, if abnormalities or cancerous signs are found, your dentist may schedule a follow-up appointment within a few weeks to see if the sign is still there and if it changes over that time period. Another recommendation may be to undergo a biopsy to obtain a cell sample for testing. Your dentist may conduct this procedure right there in the office or refer you to a cancer specialist.
For example, sores occurring within the mouth often are noncancerous. While the oral exam can locate these sores, it can’t determine if they are cancerous or not. For that, a biopsy will be required.
In other cases, small, undetectable lesions or areas containing abnormal cells often go unnoticed or undetected with a hands-on oral cancer exam. However, your dentist can use advanced devices to better detect these hidden abnormalities. As mentioned above, the use of the VELscope Vx by Dr. Stiles is one of those devices with the ability to find potential issues, including those naked to the human eye.
The VELscope VX works by emitting a blue light inside your mouth, and this blue light helps to show any abnormalities that may be cancerous. The process itself is called “tissue fluorescence visualization,” and it makes any abnormalities more apparent and can lead to a quicker diagnosis.
With the advent of these highly effective visualizing devices like the VELscope Vx, oral cancer screenings are becoming more and more accurate in identifying the abnormalities within the mouth that can lead to cancer or are already cancerous.
Essentially, oral cancer screenings are an important step in preserving your overall health.
Schedule an Appointment and Screening with Stiles Dental Care Today
Here at Stiles Dental Care, we put the needs of our patients first and provide oral cancer screenings using both traditional and advanced methods. Dr. Stiles will conduct these screenings during your regularly scheduled dental exams or whenever else needed. Learn more about these oral cancer screenings or schedule an appointment for an exam or cleaning today.