Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, and accounts for cancers of the mouth, tongue, and the back of the throat . Like many cancers, if caught early, treatment is generally more successful than if the cancer is detected later.
The goal of oral cancer screenings is to identify any cancerous growths early to prevent the spread of the disease. An oral cancer screening is a simple process that typically happens during your regular checkup with your professional dentist.
Here’s what you can expect during an oral cancer screening!
A Physical Exam of Your Oral Cavity
Your dentist will conduct a physical exam of your oral cavity to look for areas in the mouth that may be red or white, such as sores or lesions . Your dentist will also feel for lumps in your face, neck, and jaw that could be indicative of cancer.
The exam is comprehensive and includes your lips, the lining of your cheeks, gums, tongue, and the floor and roof of your mouth. This process is usually simple and painless—even for patients that experience dental anxiety, there’s no instruments used, just a simple visual exam.
A Few Brief Questions
During your oral cancer screening, your dentist will ask you about any changes in your health or if you’re having any symptoms related to oral cancer . These symptoms could include unexplained pain, numbness, or bleeding in your oral cavity.
If you’re new at your dentist office, they may also ask about your history of cancer, smoking, or tobacco use to better understand your risk for oral cancer. Based on this information, your dentist will recommend screening options. Typically, oral cancer screenings happen annually for adults.
What Happens If Your Dentist Suspects Oral Cancer
If your dentist finds something that requires further investigation, don’t panic. Some lesions or bumps are benign—non-cancerous—and nothing to worry about. Your dentist may want to conduct a few additional tests to get a better idea of what their findings are.
These tests could include staining options such as blue or florescence stains, which can help healthcare professionals identify potentially cancerous growths . Your dentist may also want to take a biopsy, in which cells are scraped and looked at to determine if further diagnosis is required.
Based on their findings, your dentist can refer you to a specialist for further testing and
When Was Your Last Checkup?
Your regular dentist visits aren’t just for teeth cleanings—with an annual oral cancer screening, you can help catch oral cancer early to increase your chances of treatment success. Ask your dentist about their process for oral cancer screenings during your next checkup!