Cancer – the uncontrolled growth of cells that invade and cause damage to surrounding tissue. Unfortunately, the frequency of oral cancer is on the rise – 100 new cases per day in the United States are being reported – one person every hour of every day will die from it. Risk factors include use of tobacco and alcohol and most recently determined, some strains of HPV (human papilloma virus), but within the last 5 years cases are increasing in males and females under age 50 with no risk factors. The fatality rate for oral cancer is one of the highest due to lack of detection before it spreads to other parts of the body.
The best tool we have to fight these results is early detection. To provide the highest standard of care for our patients, we perform an oral cancer screening at the time of our exams. Mostly this is a visual examination of the tongue, lips, and soft and hard tissues. The panoramic x-ray also gives us an overall picture of abnormalities of the hard tissues.
What are we looking for? Any changes in appearance of tissue in the oral cavity including patches of red, white or ulcerations. Also any swelling or lumps, rough patches or a white film that can’t be wiped off. Many benign lesions look the same as cancer in the beginning stages, so at what point should you be concerned? The rule of thumb is most non-cancerous conditions will heal within 14 days. We may ask you to monitor any area we show you or have you return to see us in 2 weeks to re-evaluate. At this point if the condition continues, a biopsy may be recommended.
Many patients visit their dentist more regularly than their physician, so receiving this cancer screening is a vital part of keeping us healthy.