Why Are Regular Oral Cancer Screening Necessary?

Oral cancer is an extremely dangerous form of cancer because it often goes undetected. If not treated early, it can spread to other areas and become life threatening. Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, throat and mouth. Typically, it starts out with a growth or sore developing in the mouth that does not go away. Only through a regular oral cancer screening can the problem be quickly identified and treated.

Who is at Risk for Oral Cancer?
Smokers are six times more likely to get oral cancer than are non-smokers. Chewing tobacco users are 50 times more likely! In addition, frequent alcohol drinkers are also at risk. A family history of cancer, excessive sun exposure, or infection of the sexually-transmitted HPV virus may also lead to oral cancer. People over the age of 40 are more likely to get oral cancer, although younger people are increasingly getting it as well.

What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Pay close attention to the following symptoms, which can alert you to the development of oral cancer:

  • Swelling, lumps, or rough spots on lips, gums, or mouth
  • Development of white, red, or speckled patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained mouth bleeding, numbness, or pain in the face, mouth, or neck
  • Persistent sores on the face, mouth, or neck
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving jaw or tongue
  • Hoarseness, chronic sore throat, or change in voice
  • Ear pain
  • Change in fitting of teeth or dentures
  • Dramatic weight loss

What is the Screening Process?
Most dentists perform an oral cancer screening exam as part of your regular dental checkup. Here’s how the process works:

  • The dentist looks inside your mouth to check for unusual patches or sores
  • He or she feels the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or abnormalities
  • If your dentist finds an unusual spot, he or she will remove some of the cells and have them tested. Don’t worry: the process is painless, and an unusual spot isn’t necessarily cancerous.
  • Your dentist may perform an additional test. For example, he or she may use a blue dye in your mouth to cause abnormal cells to stand out. Or, he or she might shine a light in your mouth to make abnormal tissue stand out.
  • If a spot looks very suspicious, the dentist may request a scalpel biopsy. You will be put under anesthesia for this process.

When Should You Get an Oral Screening?
If you are 40 years old or older, you should receive an oral screening every 6 months to a year.

Remember, many times oral cancer isn’t detected until it has spread to other areas and reached a dangerous level. You can prevent this outcome by receiving frequent oral cancer screenings. If you are experiencing symptoms of oral cancer, or if it’s time for your regular checkup, set an appointment by calling our Market Mall location at 403-288-5500 or our North Hill location at 403-289-9908.