According to research conducted
by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer
are diagnosed each year. More than 7,000 of these cases result in the
death of the patient. The good news is that oral cancer can easily be
diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when
caught in its earliest stages.
Oral cancer is a pathologic
process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual
cancer signs may not be readily noticeable. This makes the oral cancer
examinations performed by the dentist critically important. Oral
cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma,
adenocarcinoma and melanoma. The most common type of oral cancer is the
malignant squamous cell carcinoma. This oral cancer type usually
originates in lip and mouth tissues.
There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:
Reasons for oral cancer examinations
It is important to note that
around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors
such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Your
dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes
and smoking cessation.
When oral cancer is diagnosed
in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective. Any
noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area
should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.
During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be
scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of
The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:
- Red patches and sores– Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.