Oral cancer is any abnormal cell growth in the mouth. This abnormal cell growth can be benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous). Oral cancer can be life-threatening, but detecting it early is key to surviving it.
Over 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer every year. When detected early, oral cancer can be highly treatable and curable. Unfortunately, many people do not go for regular oral cancer screenings. Not going for regular screenings can increase your chances of developing oral cancer by as much as 50%.
Screening for oral cancer requires a thorough visual examination of the entire oral cavity. Even with the most thorough visual examination, some oral cancers may be asymptomatic. That means they may not have any of these symptoms:
Everyone should be screened for oral cancer on an annual basis. Those with a history of smoking, drinking, or heavy sun exposure should be screened more often. Tobacco products contain a number of harmful chemicals, including carcinogens and toxins. When combined with frequent alcohol use, the risk of oral cancers increases significantly.
You may or may not know that your dentist does more than just clean your teeth. In addition to preventive care, your dentist is also trained to detect signs of oral cancer. During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will examine your mouth, throat, and cheeks, looking for signs of cancerous cells. If oral cancer is found, there are a number of treatment options.
Many cases of oral cancer are treated through the use of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both. Chemotherapy can be used to destroy cancerous cells, and radiation therapy can be used to shrink tumors. In some cases, surgery is used to remove cancerous cells.
Oral cancer is not a common disease, but it is an extremely dangerous one. It tends to affect people in middle age or older but can affect anyone at any age. When caught early, it can be treated with a simple surgical procedure. However, when it is diagnosed in its later stages, oral cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.
Your dentist uses a special light to help spot cancerous cells in your mouth. This light is painless, quick, and non-invasive. While your dentist can keep an eye out for signs of oral cancer during your routine dental cleanings, you are always welcome to request a screening appointment if you fall outside of the recommended age range.