Dentists perform oral cancer screening to find indications of cancer in the mouth at an early stage. Oral cancer or mouth cancer is defined as any cancer in or around the mouth, including the lips. Like all cancers, oral cancer is more likely to be cured if it is detected early. Oral cancer screening is a simple procedure, but not all dental professionals agree on whether it or not it is useful. Some dentists do recommend it, especially for patients who are at higher risk for oral cancer. This includes smokers and tobacco users, people with frequent sun exposure, people who consume alcohol heavily and anyone who has ever been diagnosed with oral cancer in the past.
An oral cancer screening is done in a dentist’s office, usually during a regular appointment. The dentist examines your mouth visually, and while wearing gloves, feels inside your mouth for lumps or other abnormalities. If you wear dentures or other removable dental appliances you will be asked to remove them for the exam. Other tests for oral cancer include a dye test in which you rinse your mouth with a dye which may cause abnormal cells in your mouth to turn blue. Another test involves a light that is shined in your mouth and shows abnormal tissue as white.
Abnormalities discovered in a screening may not be cancerous. If any abnormalities are found, you will have to undergo additional testing. Usually a follow up screening is performed a few weeks later to see if the abnormality is still present. A biopsy, which removes a sample of the cells and tests them, can determine if the cells are cancerous or benign.
Oral cancer screening can detect cancer or precancer, but some oral cancer can escape detection by a screening exam. There is no evidence that oral cancer screening saves lives, but it may lead to early detection of oral cancer and increase the chances of survival.
If you would like to learn more about oral cancer, its risk factors and oral cancer screening, call for an appointment. The decision to have oral cancer screening can only be made by careful consideration by you and the dentist.