Cancers of the mouth and the oropharynx region can be detected through oral cancer screening completed at your regular dental visit. When signs of these cancers are caught early before they have spread, the survival rate is 84 percent. When oral cancer has spread, however, the survival rate falls to 36 percent, showing the importance of getting regular screenings especially if you are in a high-risk group.
Risk factors for oral cancer
Oral cancers used to primarily be a problem for people who smoked chewed tobacco or drank heavily. There has been an uptick in the number of nonsmokers and nondrinkers who develop oral cancer, however. Researchers believe this is because of exposure to the human papillomavirus, which is also known to cause cervical cancer. Other risk factors include being over the age of 40, being male and being exposed to the sun. People who chew betel quid, a common practice in parts of Asia and among certain U.S. minority communities, are also at heightened risk of developing mouth cancer.
Symptoms and signs
The primary signs that people might have oral cancer are the presence of white or red patches that do not go away in less than two weeks. If you have a white or red patch that has not resolved itself, you should be checked immediately. Other symptoms and signs include jaw swelling, hoarseness, a chronically sore throat, ear pain, trouble moving the jaw or tongue, unexplained lumps in the soft tissue of the mouth and numbness of the tongue or another mouth area.
What happens during cancer screening
Some dentists in Las Vegas use a new technology called VELscope® to perform oral cancer screening. This technology uses an intense blue light and filtering to highlight abnormal areas. You can expect your screening to be painless and fast. If there are areas that concern your dentist, he or she will then discuss further testing with you. Detecting cancer in its early stages is very important and can potentially save your life.