Oral Cancer Exam 101: Everything You Need to Know

Oral Cancer Exam 101: Everything You Need to Know

Nov 01, 2020

Did you know about 53,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer annually? That is, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. The organization also states that oral cancer contributes to about 30 percent of the total cancer cases. And, one person succumbs to the disease every 24 hours.

According to OCF, the problem is not the lack of diagnosing tool, but rather the late detection of the disease. Oral cancer has no symptoms in the early stages, and it is easy for it to go undetected. The best way to know is to get an oral cancer screening.

What is Oral Cancer Exam? And Why is it Done?

It is an oral screening done by the dentist or a doctor to look for signs of precancerous conditions and lesions in the mouth. The exam’s primary goal is to detect cancer early before it advances and address it on time.

Several debates have been witnessed on whether oral cancer screening is beneficial and can save lives. Some agree on the validity of the exam, and others do not. However, the early detection of the disease can increase your chances of fighting the disease.

The frequency of the dental oral cancer exam is also debatable. How often you get screened is something our Phoenix dentist will discuss with you based on your risk factors. But, the OCF recommends getting screened once a year after you turn 18.

What Are the Oral Cancer Risk Factors?

Some professionals say you need to get it every year, while others claim you should only get screened if you are at risk of developing the disease.

The problem is, some people develop oral cancer without having most of the risk factors. Others are at risk and do not get oral cancer. That is why it is important to consult your dentist on whether oral cancer screening is for you or not.

Nonetheless, it is essential to know if you are at risk or not. Oral cancer risk factors include:

  • Smoking and chewing tobacco. It is worth noting that even second-hand smoke can put you at risk too.
  • Regular and excessive intake of alcohol
  • Human Papillomavirus
  • History of oral cancer
  • Gender—men are more at risk than women
  • Staying long under the sun increase risk of cancer on the lips

What to Expect During Your Oral Exam?

No preparation is needed before the screening is done, but it is important to inform the dentist if you have any preexisting dental or medical conditions.

The oral cancer exam will involve two tests; the physical and visual.

Physical exam

The dentist will touch the head, cheeks, under the chin, around the jaw, and oral cavity to check for any irregular or abnormal nodules. The goal of the exam is to check for lumps, immobile tissues, and swelling.

Visual exam

It is prudent to remove any dental appliances that you may have before the procedure begins. Using a light and a mirror, the dentist will check for patches of color, bumps, swelling, and asymmetries.

The dentist will also check your gums, inner cheeks, palate, throat, tonsils, and underneath the gums.

After the exams, if the dentist finds any signs of cancer or precancerous lesions, he may recommend:

A biopsy procedure

This procedure involves removing samples of the lesions for laboratory testing to determine whether cancer cells are present.

Sometimes the dentist may only schedule a follow-up visit to check if the abnormal tissue or cells are still present before recommending the biopsy.

What Are the Risks of Oral Cancer Exams?

Oral cancer exams have some limitations:

  • Additional and unnecessary tests. Most of the mouth sores are noncancerous, and the oral cancer exam cannot detect that. If the dentist finds an idiopathic mouth sore, he may recommend other unnecessary tests.
  • Oral cancer screening cannot detect very small precancerous cells.

Schedule an Appointment

If you need more information on oral cancer screening, how it is done, and the risks involved, visit Garden Lakes Family Dentistry. Our dentist will take you through the screening procedure as well as examine your risk factors.