HOW AND WHY YOUR DENTIST SCREENS YOU FOR ORAL CANCER
When you visit your dentist in Highlands Ranch, CO you're probably more concerned about them finding cavities than cancer. However, during an annual dental examination, one of the things your dentist is looking for are signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer includes abnormal cells in the lips, gums, tongue, soft tissues inside the mouth, as well as the salivary glands, tonsils, throat, and esophagus. In this article by our team at Rock Canyon Dental Care, we discuss the most common symptoms of oral cancer, what may put you at greater risk of getting oral cancer, how your dentist performs an oral cancer screening, and treatments for oral cancer.
ORAL CANCER SYMPTOMS
Symptoms of oral cancer may not be painful or obvious, so it is important to get regular oral cancer checks by your dentist in Highlands Ranch, CO. Some of the signs of oral cancers that your dentist will look for are:
- PERSISTENT SORES
Sores that develop on the lips or inside the mouth that don't heal within two weeks are a symptom of oral cancer. These sores may bleed easily so it is important to have them checked and treated.
- RED OR WHITE PATCHES
One symptom of oral cancer is red or white patches inside the mouth, especially on the gums or tongue. These patches often have a velvety texture.
- DIFFICULTY MOVING YOUR JAW OR TONGUE
A tumor or lump in your mouth may make it difficult to chew, speak, or swallow. You may also feel soreness or pain when you move your mouth.
- CHRONIC SORE THROAT
Oral cancer in the throat may cause a persistent sore throat (unrelated to a cold or other illness) or a feeling that something is stuck in the back of your throat. You may also notice a change in your voice.
- LUMPS AND INFLAMMATION
Oral cancer can cause inflammation and lumps in your mouth and throat. During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will check for bulges in your neck and swelling around your jaw.
ORAL CANCER RISK FACTORS
Anyone can get oral cancer, but there are certain factors that can make a person more likely to develop cancerous cells in their mouth, lips, and throat.
- CHEWING TOBACCO
While chewing tobacco is better for the health of those around you, it still puts you at higher risk for oral cancer. Having the tobacco directly in your mouth makes you more likely to get lip, gums, and cheek cancer, in particular.
Smoking tobacco in any form (traditional cigarettes, e-cigs, cigars, and others) increases your risk of getting oral cancer. Additionally, people who live with you or spend a lot of time around you are at higher risk of also getting oral cancer through second-hand smoke.
Heavy drinkers (consuming 21 or more alcoholic drinks per week) are at higher risk of developing oral cancer. Drinking and using tobacco make you six times more likely to get oral cancer.
Also linked to cervical cancer, a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV) is now linked to oral cancer. HPV 16, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), increases your risk of developing oropharyngeal cancers in the back of the mouth, tonsils, and throat.
While most of your mouth is safe from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, your lips are not. Regular, unprotected exposure to the sun and other sources of UV light (such as tanning beds) can cause skin cancer in the lips. To avoid skin cancer, wear sun protection (like sunscreen and hats). Look for lip balms that contain SPF 15 or higher to protect your lips from burning.
ORAL CANCER SCREENING
An important part of an annual dental examination is the oral cancer screening. At Rock Canyon Dental Care, our dental professionals perform an oral cancer screening on each of our Highlands Ranch, CO patients during their exam. During this portion of the exam, your dentist will perform a visual and physical inspection of your mouth and throat to look for symptoms of oral cancer. After putting on a fresh pair of gloves, your dentist will start by checking areas inside your mouth (under your tongue, the back of your throat, your cheek lining) to look for unusual growths or spots. They will also palpate (feel) your chin, jaw, and throat to check for lumps and swelling. While a visual and physical exam performed correctly is usually enough to detect abnormalities, some dental practices also use oral cancer detection devices, such as a blue light or mouth rinse. If your dentist is concerned, they will typically refer you to an oncologist for diagnosis and treatment.
TREATING ORAL CANCER
If your dentist finds signs of oral cancer, they will refer you to another doctor. To diagnosis oral cancer, the doctor will probably recommend a biopsy that examines a small number of cells from your mouth to look for cancer. If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, your doctor will go through your treatment options and help you develop your treatment plan.
Oral surgery can be performed to remove as much of the cancerous area as possible. Depending on the location of your oral cancer, this may be a simple outpatient procedure or a longer surgery. Cancer surgery is usually followed by radiation or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
A group of strong drugs, chemotherapy can be used to slow the growth of cancer or destroy the cancer cells. Depending on the type of chemotherapy medication used, you may experience different side effects during your treatment cycle.
Radiotherapy uses localized x-rays, gamma rays, electron beam, or protons to stop cancer cells from growing. The radiation therapy can be aimed directly at the area affected by cancer, which limits side effects to the rest of your body.
GET SCREENED FOR ORAL CANCER
Make sure you're going to a dentist in Highlands Ranch, CO at least once a year for a dental examination that includes an oral cancer screening. At Rock Canyon Dental Care our team checks every patient for signs of oral cancer during their routine visits. Early diagnosis and treatment can dramatically increase a patient's survival rate so make sure you and your family are scheduling regular appointments for oral cancer screenings at a dentist in Highlands Ranch, CO.