One reason why dentists recommend that you undergo routine dental checkups is that it affords your dental team an opportunity to identify problems when they are at an early stage. One of the tests that your dental team will perform during a dental exam is an oral cancer screening. The goal of this screening is to detect any early indications of cancer or precancerous conditions within the mouth.
An oral cancer screening can detect oral cancer at an early stage, giving you the best opportunity to successfully treat this serious disease if it is found. Your dental team is trained to detect early signs of oral cancer that may not even be noticeable to you.
Risk factors for developing oral cancer:
- Smoking or dipping tobacco increases your odds of developing oral cancer.
- Heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing neck and head cancer.
- Prolonged sun exposure increases your risk of the development of lip cancer.
- The presence of human papillomavirus.
- Patient is 45 years or older.
- Men have a heightened risk of developing oral cancer in comparison to women.
Oral Cancer Screening: What To Expect
A screening for oral cancer may involve one or more of the following tests:
Most occurrences of oral cancer are detected during routine dental examinations. If you are displaying any symptoms of oral cancer, your doctor or dentist will be looking at your medical history and ask you about any risk factors or symptoms that you may be experiencing. They will also look for lumps on your gums, cheeks, neck and lips.
An endoscopic examination gives your doctor a chance to look within your throat and mouth. It involves the insertion of an endoscope through the nose to examine the head and neck areas. If any concerning areas are detected, your doctor may want to do a biopsy, which involves some removal of suspicious tissue to be examined under a microscope.
Although certain types of tests could suggest an occurrence of cancer, an actual biopsy is necessary for determining if you actually have cancer. This involves the removal of small amounts of tissue, which is observed under a microscope.
X-rays create a visual image of the internal structures of your body. If your doctor or dentist suspects oral cancer, they may suggest that you undergo x-rays of your mouth or neck to provide confirmation for their suspicions.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) involves the use of magnetic fields that form highly detailed images. If your doctor needs to closely examine soft tissue, such as the tonsils, this is the preferred method. An MRI will also reveal the size of any tumor.